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English Composition 1

The Writing Process: Prewriting | Drafting | Revising | Proofreading | The Final Draft

The Writing Process: Revising

John was given the assignment of writing an essay of at least 800 words that presents an analysis and interpretation of the photograph Migrant Mother, by Dorothea Lange. A copy of the photograph appears to the right. Just click the image to see a larger version.

John has already made much progress. He has been through the prewriting stages and has just finished writing a first draft of his paper. However, John realizes that there is still much work ahead of him.

Once, John wrote a first draft of an essay, proofread the draft and made some corrections, and then turned in that first draft as his final draft. He earned a low grade on that essay, and the professor even noted John did not seem to have revised his writing. John knows the importance of revising.

In class one day, the professor asked a student who had earned an "A" on his essay how long it took the student to complete the essay. The student said that it took him about two hours to write the essay and about six hours to revise it. This surprised John and made him realize that he should spend more time trying to revise his writing.   

Tips for Revising an Essay Draft

John Begins the Revision Process

After John writes his first draft, he gives himself a break from the essay for a while. He needs to put a little distance between himself and his essay so that he can better evaluate his writing. After this break, John is ready to begin the task of revising his essay.

Below is a copy of John's first draft, prior to any revision.

       The photograph of "Migrant Mother" was taken by Dorothea Lange in 1936. It is a black and white photograph and shows a family that is poor and suffering. The family is poor, but the photograph shows that the mother is strong and is trying to take care of her children.
       The family in "Migrant Mother" is very poor. You can tell this by the clothes that they are wearing. The baby is wrapped in an old coat or blanket that is very dirty. The mother's clothes are also dirty and the sleeve of her shirt is torn. The child on the left has on a coat that is too big for him, it probably is a hand-me-down or a coat that someone gave him. Small holes can be seen in the sleeve of the dingy shirt that the child on the right is wearing. The dirt on the family also shows that they are poor. The baby's face is filthy, and dirt is smudged on the arm of the child on the right. The mother's arm is also dirty, and she has her hand up to her chin, like she is trying to think of how she can help her family. It looks like the family is sitting in a tent of some sort because you can see a canvas background. They probably do not have a home. They do not seem to have any water to bathe with. The photograph was taken in 1936. This is the time of the "Dust Bowl," when migrant farm workers were suffering. The photograph shows that this family is poor.
       The photograph shows that the mother is trying to care for her family. The mother is at the center of the photograph, and she is the center of her family. Two of the children are leaning against the mother, one on each side of her. The children are leaning against the mother's shoulders. One child has his hands to his face, showing that he is sad about the situation. Both children are looking down because they are depressed. There is also a baby in the mother's lap. The baby is resting peacefully. It looks like the baby has just breast fed, showing that the mother is doing her best to care for him. It looks like the older children have recently had haircuts. It looks as if their hair were cut by putting a bowl on their head and cutting around it, but at least the mother made sure that they have their hair cut. The family is poor and suffering, but the mother is trying to be strong and care for her children.
       The mother is determined not to be defeated by her difficulties. She is going to care for her family and help them survive during this bad time in their lives. The mother's determination is shown by her face. She is looking ahead and does not even notice the photographer because she has more important things to worry about. She is worried about the future. Her hand on her face shows that she is thinking, and her eyes are squinted, like she is thinking and worrying about something. When someone feels defeated, they might put their head down, but the mother does not do this. She holds her head up and faces the suffering the future will bring. She is strong and determined. The children rely on the mother for comfort because they know that she will help them get through the bad times. The mother is determined not to be defeated.
       The painting "Migrant Mother" shows how important it is for a mother to be strong. The family is poor and suffering, but they will survive because the strong mother is not going to be defeated. 1936 was a bad year for many people, but this mother will make it through.  

John first considers his thesis and the thesis statement. The thesis statement of his first draft is "The family is poor, but the photograph shows that the mother is strong and is trying to take care of her children." John realizes that the wording could be better--he will work on that later--but he likes the main ideas for his paper.

John then looks at how his essay is organized and developed, and he noticed many ways that these aspects of his paper could be stronger. John sees that he has a general point for each body paragraph, but he notices that he sometimes is not as well focused on the points as he could be. For example, the first body paragraph begins with the idea that "the mother is trying to care for her family," but there is some information in that paragraph that does not seem to be clearly related to this idea, such as the sentences "One child has his hands to his face, showing that he is sad about the situation. Both children are looking down because they are depressed." John seems to have drifted from the idea about the mother caring for her family, or at least he is presenting information without explaining how it is helping him develop this main point.

John also notices that the third body paragraph could be better focused and developed. The paragraph begins with the claim that "The mother is determined not to be defeated by her difficulties," which seems like a good idea, but a few sentences later, John is describing how the mother "is worried about the future. Her hand on her face shows that she is thinking, and her eyes are squinted, like she is thinking and worrying about something." John wonders why he is describing how the mother looks worried in a paragraph about how she is not going to be defeated. He almost contradicts himself. There needs to be more of a focus here.

As John looks over the critiques of his essay that other students in the class have written for him, he notices suggestions that he should include more specific descriptions of the photograph. One student wrote, "I don't really 'see' much of the photo when I read your paper. Try to appeal more to the reader's senses--give us more things that we can 'see.' Make it really vivid and descriptive. Instead of telling us that the clothes are dirty, try to show us the dirtiness in your descriptions." John realizes that this is a good suggestion. As he rereads his paper, he realizes that he does not have much specific description of the photograph, and he remembers that the assignment indicates that the essay should include plenty of specific and concrete description.

Another one of the comments that John receives in his peer critiques is that some of the sentences in his essay seem to be short and choppy. As John rereads his draft, he realizes that this is true and realizes that he needs to combine some of the sentences and to use more varied sentences. In addition, on the Revision Checklist, John reads the question "Are there smooth and logical transitions from one idea to the next and from one sentence to the next?" John looks at the Web page explaining Transitional Words and Phrases and realizes that he does not use many of these kinds of words, so he decides that he needs to add more of them to his essay. And on the Checklist for Style and Mechanics, John reads that he should "eliminate overuse of 'to be' verbs ('is,' 'are,' 'was,' 'were,' etc.)" and that if he overuses these words, he should "try to use stronger verbs." John uses the "Find" feature of his word processor to see how many times he uses "is," and he can hardly believe that the word "is" appears 40 times in his essay. He had no idea that this was the case until he actually examined this aspect of his essay.

John has only begun the revision process, but he already realizes that there are many aspects of his essay that he will need to work on strengthening. He thinks back to that first draft of an essay that he once submitted as his final draft, and he is embarrassed, but he is pleased to think about how much stronger this essay will be after he makes the many improvements to it as he revises his draft.

John will look for other ways to strengthen his essay, but he summarizes the planned improvements that he has identified so far:

John realizes that there are other ways that his essay could be stronger, but he has given himself a helpful list to guide him through his first revision of his draft. He loads his word processor, opens up the first draft of the essay, and begins to make the changes.    

One Paragraph Revised

John has spent a few hours revising his first draft, and while he plans to revise his essay more and has not yet proofread it, he is much happier than he was with the quality of his essay.

Below are two versions of one paragraph from John's essay--one version from the first draft and the same paragraph after John revised it. Notice the many improvements that John has made as he revised.

From the First Draft
       The family in "Migrant Mother" is very poor. You can tell this by the clothes that they are wearing. The baby is wrapped in an old coat or blanket that is very dirty. The mother's clothes are also dirty and the sleeve of her shirt is torn. The child on the left has on a coat that is too big for him, it probably is a hand-me-down or a coat that someone gave him. Small holes can be seen in the sleeve of the dingy shirt that the child on the right is wearing. The dirt on the family also shows that they are poor. The baby's face is filthy, and dirt is smudged on the arm of the child on the right. The mother's arm is also dirty, and she has her hand up to her chin, like she is trying to think of how she can help her family. It looks like the family is sitting in a tent of some sort because you can see a canvas background. They probably do not have a home. They do not seem to have any water to bathe with. The photograph was taken in 1936. This is the time of the "Dust Bowl," when migrant farm workers were suffering. The photograph shows that this family is poor.  
From the Revised Draft
       The mother and her children are severely impoverished. The title of the photograph identifies the mother as a migrant worker, and the photograph was taken in 1936, at the time when many migrant farm workers suffered through the disaster of the "Dust Bowl." The family's clothing alone suggests their poverty. The mother wears a ragged gray shirt with frayed sleeves that appear to extend only as far as her elbows. Her children's clothing is not any better. The baby lies wrapped in a blanket or coat that has become soiled and gray, not the kind of clothing that anyone would want to wrap a baby in. Only one sleeve of the garment worn by the blonde-haired child leaning on the mother's left shoulder is visible, but it reveal two small holes or dark patches of dirt, and the bottom of the sleeve appears to be torn. The cloth appears to be more of a rag than a shirt. The child leaning on the mother's other shoulder wears a coat that hangs loosely off of his shoulders, suggesting that the coat is much too large for his small frame. It appears to have been a long time since any of the family's clothing was washed. Likewise, the mother and children themselves do not seem to have bathe for a while. They all appear soiled by the dusty and dirty environment around them. Most noticeable are the smudges around the baby's mouth and its darkened eyelids, along with the grimy and weathered skin of the mother's right forearm. The blonde child to the mother's left appears to have a streak of dirt or perhaps a bruise on his left arm. Finally, the canvas material behind the family also suggests their poverty. They are migrants, so they probably do not have a home of their own and may be living in a tent. This family clearly are suffering from extreme poverty, but the photograph also suggests that the mother is doing her best to care for her children during this difficult time.

John has made many changes as he revised this paragraph. In fact, it took him much longer to revise the paragraph than it took him to write the first version of it. The results are impressive. The revised version of the paragraph is much stronger than the earlier version.

Notice how well John addressed those aspects of his essay that he identified as needing improvement as he began the revising process. In particular, he has given his paragraph a good focus, has described parts of the photograph more vividly, has added some transitional words and phrases, has cut down on his overuse of "is," has used longer and more varied sentences, and has made his paragraph more interesting by using better wording.   

Once John started revising his essay, it was difficult for him to stop. He kept noticing more and more things about his essay that he thought he could make better. That's good. John thought that he had a good first draft of his essay, but the revision process made it clear to him just how much better it could be.

Only one of John's revised paragraphs is copied above, but he made extensive changes to all of the other part of his essay, including the introduction and the conclusion.

John's essay is due tomorrow, so he finally decides that it is time to proceed to the last stage of the writing process. It is time for John to proofread his essay and to correct any errors that he sees.

It is finally time for proofreading.

This page was last updated on Thursday, June 06, 2013. Copyright Randy Rambo, 2006.