Revising Argument, Organization, and Voice
Revision begins by considering the global level of your essay:
- Topic, thesis, and organization
- The voice you have used to present your ideas
Print your draft; reading a hard copy of your paper is better than looking at partial views on your computer screen. Digital editing can encourage tinkering rather than addressing global, structural concerns.
- What is it that you were asked to do?
- Have you fulfilled all of the requirements?
- Why did you make the choices that you made?
- Highlight or underline your focused topic, research question, and thesis.
- Read the conclusion to ensure it presents a clear, consistent, cohesive message. Frequently, our ideas are clearer as we near the conclusion, so the argument may be more refined in this paragraph. Consider necessary revisions to your introduction based on your conclusion.
- In one or two sentences, summarize your argument and its purpose. Use this summary to assess the coherence and clarity of your message throughout your paper.
Create a reverse outline from your rough draft by highlighting the main idea in each of your paragraphs. Read over the highlighted sentences. The first sentence should be your thesis. Each subsequent sentence should relate to the thesis and should be presented in logical order.
- Have you provided sufficient and accurate evidence for each sentence in the reverse outline?
- Have you explained how each sentence in the reverse outline supports the thesis?
- Is your essay clearly and logically organized?
- Are there any gaps or irrelevant ideas that need to be addressed?
- Have you used transitions to show the relations between the major points you are making?
- Ask “so what?” of your essay to assess your argument. Consider how to strengthen your thesis by explaining its significance to the topic or field of study. Use the Thesis Checklist for help.
- Ask "so what?" at the end of each paragraph. This can help you to see if you are supporting your thesis or simply listing information without making connections. This can also hope you to determine if a sentence or a paragraph is off topic. These two words, "so what?" help you to stay on track in your essay.
Voice refers to each writer’s recognizable and unique style and tone. Your aim is to revise your voice so that it is consistent in tone and level of formality and conforms to the expectations of university. Generally, assume you are writing for an informed scholarly audience composed of your classmates and your instructor.
- Formal tone
- Use of “I” or first-person singular
- Use of "you" or second-person
- Gender-neutral language
- Active voice
- Verb tense
An essay needs a formal tone. This means avoiding slang, clichés, and lazy language. This does not mean you have to write in a fancy, ornamental, wordy way. Be clear and to the point. Use simple language, as it is the easiest to read.
First-person statements that use “I” should be used in moderation; you shouldn’t start every sentence with “I think” or “I feel.” The use of “I” is preferable to expressions such as “the author of the present paper” or “the current writer.”
Avoid the use of "you," which literally means the reader of the essay. It's rare in academic writing to address one's reader. Moreover, students sometimes use "you" when they are generalizing; in that case, use "one" instead. For example:
Reduce gender bias in writing with thoughtful use of pronouns.
If you know the gender identity of the person you are writing about, use the appropriate pronoun when you refer to them (e.g., they, she, he, etc.).
Not acceptable (only male pronouns for unknown subject/antecedent): “an effective teacher provides clear feedback to his students”
Acceptable (appropriate pronoun to reflect known gender identity): “Elijah is an effective teacher who provides clear feedback to his students.”
To ensure your language is inclusive and equitable, avoid use of binary pronouns (‘his or her’) in reference to unknown subjects. Instead you can refer to the subjects by name or with the epicene, or gender-neutral “they” or “their.” In some instances, it will also work to pluralize subjects/antecedents where you use the pronoun “they.”
Not acceptable (binary pronouns for unknown subject/antecedent): “an effective teacher provides clear feedback to his or her students”
Acceptable (epicene/singular they): “an effective teacher provides clear feedback to their students.”
Acceptable plural form: "effective teachers provide clear feedback to their students."
Most instructors agree that students should maintain the active voice in their essays and labs except in circumstances where the passive is more effective. The active voice is less wordy and indirect, but it also forces clearer thinking: the writer must name a subject and say what that subject is doing. The passive voice, on the other hand, allows the actor or doer in a sentence to remain invisible.
Instructors generally agree that students should use the “historical present” when describing events in a work of literature (or a film) or when discussing what authors or scholars say about a topic or issue, even when the work of literature is from the past or uses the past tense itself, or the authors and scholars are dead.
It is considered more accurate to use the present tense in these circumstances because the arguments put forward by scholars, and the characters presented and scenes depicted by novelists, poets, and dramatists continue to live in the present whenever anyone reads them. An added benefit is that many find the use of the historical present tense makes for a more lively style and a stronger voice.