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How to Write and Revise an Essay

by Kori Morgan, Demand Media

    Writing isn't a magic trick. Nobody produces a perfect essay on the first try, not even professionals. Actually, writing is a process of brainstorming, drafting and revision, where a piece may go through several incarnations before you arrive at the final version. Knowing strategies for getting started, producing a first draft and understanding different revision strategies can help you craft a powerful, well-structured essay.

    Brainstorming

    Brainstorming is idea generation for your essay. At this point in the process, no idea should be thrown away, even if you are fairly certain you won't be using it. Even the smallest or most unlikely thought can be developed into something significant. One way to brainstorm is by listing everything you already know about your topic, followed by things you don't know that you're curious about. Another strategy is to freewrite about your topic, letting the thoughts and ideas come without self-censorship.

    Thesis Statement

    A thesis statement is a single sentence, usually found at the end of the first paragraph, that states the essay's main idea. A good thesis statement is clear, specific and arguable. "Animal abuse is bad" isn't a good thesis because it's difficult to argue against, but "States should develop animal abuse registries to keep pets out of the wrong hands and protect the public from threatening individuals" makes a definite, contestable claim. You can refer to your brainstorming lists and freewriting to determine the most significant ideas for your thesis.

    Outlining

    The American University in Cairo describes writing an essay without an outline as being similar to building a skyscraper without a blueprint. Making an outline lets you organize your ideas ahead of time and plan how the essay might be structured. To make an outline, write your thesis at the top of the paper, then use headings to list your key points and the evidence you will use to prove them. If your actual essay ends up deviating from the outline, that's okay -- your ideas will naturally shift as you move further into the process.

    Drafting

    While opening a blank word-processing document can be intimidating, Palomar College states that the goal of your first draft should be to get it finished as quickly as possible so you have raw material to work with. For example, if you don't have any ideas for a catchy introduction, you can skip it and write a section that is easier for you. Similarly, if you get stuck on what word to use or how to phrase things, highlight the text or put it in brackets to indicate that you'll fix it later.

    Types of Revision

    The Dartmouth Writing Program identifies two kinds of revisions you'll encounter in the writing process. Large-scale revision takes place when there are significant problems related to organization, clarity of ideas and logical reasoning. These issues may require reworking the essay to make it more effective for audiences. Small-scale revision is about zeroing in on particular parts of the essay that need improvement to strengthen the whole paper. While the overall structure may be in place, you might need to write a stronger introduction or conclusion, include more evidence or further develop a certain point.

    Proofreading

    The proofreading stage of revision is where you carefully edit the essay's grammar, spelling and punctuation. Many students feel tempted to directly focus on these elements when they begin the revision process. However, getting stuck on grammar mistakes when there are more serious issues with structure and content will keep you from developing the essay. When you are ready to proofread, a good strategy is to read your essay aloud to catch mistakes you might miss when reading silently.

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    About the Author

    Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.

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