Revising Topic, Thesis and Organization

When you read your draft through on a hard copy, pretend that you had no hand in its production. Try to see and judge the essay as a stranger would.  Determine what the topic is and see if this topic has been focused on quickly enough. Decide what the thesis is. You may find highlighting it helpful.

You may also find the following techniques helpful in ensuring that you have a clear thesis and your essay is organized in the best possible way to support the thesis.

Reverse Outlines

How to be as objective as a stranger might be? Producing a reverse outline can help you see the essay’s structure and thesis clearly.

A reverse outline means producing an outline from a finished essay rather than the other way around.

One way to make a reverse outline is to highlight or underline one sentence in every paragraph that expresses the main idea and cross out everything else. Read over the sentences that remain: The first one should be your thesis. Then ask, how do the remaining sentences relate to the thesis? Are they in the right order? 

Check your reverse outline against your original outline to see if you did what you set out to do. If you have added or omitted anything, that is not necessarily a bad thing. There may be a good reason for both omissions and additions.

As you read through your reverse outline and then your essay, make sure that everything in your essay is connected to your topic and advances your thesis. Guard against wandering away from your topic and providing your reader with irrelevant information. Every general statement you make should be both supported by evidence and connected with the essay as a whole. Look at your use of transitional words and phrases. Do they help move the reader through your essay?

Telling a Friend

Another revision technique is to imagine you are describing the essay to a friend. You could do this orally or by writing down a short paragraph of about three sentences, beginning, “What this essay is really trying to get across is.…” Then read through the essay asking yourself if the essay does, indeed, get that message across.

"So what?"

Some other questions to ask yourself while reading over your essay for revision are the following: “Does my essay adequately meet the expectations of the instructor and the assignment?” “Does the whole essay leave me asking ‘So what?’” If so, the essay’s thesis needs revision.

When editing, ask yourself "So what?" at the end of each paragraph. This is shorthand for "am I simply listing (possibly very interesting) information, or am I supporting my thesis?" If something is off topic, either tweak it so that it supports your thesis or cut it. These two words, "so what?" help you to stay on track.

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