Literature Reviews

Revising

A writer rarely—if ever—achieves perfection on the first try. For most of us, good
writing is largely a matter of revision. Once your first draft is done, you can—and
should—turn on your analytical mind. Painstaking revision is more than just tidying
up grammar and spelling. It might mean expanding your ideas or sharpening the focus
by cutting out any unnecessary thoughts. To achieve effective writing, you must
have the courage to be merciless. Tear your rough drafts apart and reassemble their
pieces into a stronger order. As you revise, consider the following:
• Be sure your thesis is clear, decisive, and thought-provoking. The most
basic ingredient in a good essay is a strong thesis—the sentence in which you
summarize the claim you are making. Your thesis should say something more
than just the obvious; it should be clear and decisive and make a point that
requires evidence to persuade your reader to agree. A sharp, bold thesis lends energy
to your argument. A revision of the working thesis used in the rough draft
above provides a good example.
WORKING THESIS
The poem argues that like Adam and Eve we all lose
our innocence and the passage of time is inevitable.
This thesis may not be bold or specific enough to make for an interesting
argument. A careful reader would be hard pressed to disagree with the observation
that Frost’s poem depicts the passage of time or the loss of innocence. In a
revision of his thesis, however, the essay’s author pushes the claim further, going
beyond the obvious to its implications.
REVISED THESIS
In “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” Frost makes a bold
claim: sin, suffering, and loss are inevitable
because the passage of time causes everyone to fall
from grace.
Instead of simply asserting that the poem looks with sorrow on the passage
of time, the revised thesis raises the issue of why this is so. It makes a more
thought-provoking claim about the poem. An arguable thesis can result in a
more energetic, purposeful essay. A thesis that is obvious to everyone, on the
other hand, leads to a static, dull paper.
m Ascertain whether the evidence you provide supports your theory- Does
everything within your paper work to support its thesis sentence? While a solid
paper might be written about the poetic form of “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” the
student paper above would not be well served by bringing the subject up unless
the author could show how the poem’s form contributes to its message that time
causes everyone to lose his or her innocence. If you find yourself including information
that doesn’t serve your argument, consider going back into the poem,
story, or play for more useful evidence. On the other hand, if you’re beginning to
have a sneaking feeling that your thesis itself is shaky, consider reworking it so
that it more accurately reflects the evidence in the text.
® Check whether your argument is logical* Does one point lead naturally to
the next? Reread the paper, looking for logical fallacies, moments in which the
claims you make are not sufficiently supported by evidence, or the connection
between one thought and the next seems less than rational. Classic logical fallacies
include making hasty generalizations, confusing cause and effect, or using
a non sequitur, a statement that doesn’t follow from the statement that precedes
it. An example of two seemingly unconnected thoughts may be found in the
second paragraph of the draft above:
To the poem’s speaker, the colors of early spring
seem to last only an hour. If you blink, they are
gone. Like early spring, innocence can’t last.
Though there may well be a logical connection between the first two sentences
and the third one, the paper doesn’t spell that connection out. Asked to clarify
the warrant, or assumption, that makes possible the leap from the subject of
spring to the subject of innocence, the author revised the passage this way:
To the poem’s speaker, the colors of early spring
seem to last only an hour. When poets write of
seasons, they often also are commenting on the life
cycle. To make a statement that spring can’t last
more than an hour implies that a person’s youth
(often symbolically associated with spring) is all
too short. Therefore, the poem implies that innocent
youth, like spring, lasts for only the briefest
time.
The revised version spells out the author s thought process, helping the reader to
follow the argument.
* Supply transitional words and phrases. To ensure that your reader’s journey
from one idea to the next is a smooth one, insert transitional words and phrases
at the start of new7 paragraphs or sentences. Phrases such as “in contrast” and
“however” signal a U-turn in logic, while those such as “in addition” and
“similarly” alert the reader that you are continuing in the same direction you
have been traveling. Seemingly inconsequential words and phrases such as “also”
and “similarly” or “as mentioned above” can smooth the reader’s path from one
thought to the next, as in the example below.
DRAFT
Though Frost is writing about nature, his real
subject is humanity. In literature, spring often
represents youth. Summer symbolizes young adulthood,
autumn stands for middle age, and winter represents
old age. The adult stages of life are, for Frost,
less precious than childhood, which passes very
quickly. The innocence of childhood is, like those
spring leaves, precious as gold.
ADDING TRANSITIONAL WORDS AND PHRASES
Though Frost is writing about nature, his real
subject is humanity. As mentioned above, in
literature, spring often represents youth.
Similarly, summer symbolizes young adulthood, autumn
stands for middle age, and winter represents old
age. The adult stages of life are, for Frost, less
precious than childhood, which passes very quickly.
Also, the innocence of childhood is, like those
spring leaves, precious as gold.
Make sure each paragraph contains a topic sentence. Each paragraph in
your essay should develop a single idea; this idea should be conveyed in a topic
sentence. As astute readers often expect to get a sense of a paragraph’s purpose
from its first few sentences, a topic sentence is often well placed at or near a
paragraph’s start.
Make a good first impression. Your introductory paragraph may have seemed
just fine as you began the writing process. Be sure to reconsider it in light of the
entire paper. Does the introduction draw readers in and prepare them for what
follows? If not, be sure to rework it, as the author of the rough draft above did.
Look at his first paragraph again:
DRAFT OF OPENING PARAGRAPH
Most of the lines in the poem “Nothing Gold Can
Stay” by Robert Frost focus on the changing of the
seasons. The poem’s first line says that the first
leaves of spring are actually blossoms, and the
actual leaves that follow are less precious. Those
first blossoms only last a little while. The reader
realizes that nature is a metaphor for a person’s
state of mind. People start off perfectly innocent,
but as time passes, they can’t help but lose that
happy innocence. The poem argues that like Adam and
Eve we all lose our innocence and the passage of
time is inevitable.
While serviceable, this paragraph could be more compelling. Its author improved
it by adding specifics to bring his ideas to more vivid life. For example,
the rather pedestrian sentence “People start off perfectly innocent, but as time
passes, they can’t help but lose that innocence,” became this livelier one: “As
babies we are all perfectly innocent, but as time passes, we can’t help but lose
that innocence.” By adding a specific image—the baby—the author gives the
reader a visual picture to illustrate the abstract idea of innocence. He also sharpened
his thesis sentence, making it less general and more thought-provoking. By
varying the length of his sentences, he made the paragraph less monotonous.
REVISED OPENING PARAGRAPH
Most of the lines in Robert Frost’s brief poem
“Nothing Gold Can Stay” focus on nature: the
changing of the seasons and the fading of dawn into
day. The poem’s opening line asserts that the first
blossoms of spring are more precious than the leaves
that follow. Likewise, dawn is more special than
day. Though Frost’s subject seems to be nature, the
reader soon realizes that his real subject is human
nature. As babies we are all perfectly innocent, but
as time passes, we can’t help but lose that happy
innocence. In “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” Frost makes a
bold claim: sin, suffering, and loss are inevitable
because the passage of time causes everyone to fall
from grace.
Remember that last impressions count too. Your paper’s conclusion should
give the reader some closure, tying up the paper’s loose ends without simply (and
boringly) restating ail that has come before. The author of the rough draft above
initially ended his paper with a paragraph that repeated the paper’s main ideas
without pushing those ideas any further:
DRAFT OF CONCLUSION
The poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” makes the point
that people can’t stay innocent forever. Grief is
the inevitable result of the aging process. Like the
first leaves of spring, we are at the best at the
very beginning, and it’s all downhill from there.
While revising his paper, the author realized that the ideas in his next-tolast
paragraph would serve to sum up the paper. The new final paragraph doesn’t
simply restate the thesis; it pushes the idea further, in its last two sentences, by
exploring the poem’s implications.
REVISED CONCLUSION
Some people might view Frost’s poem as
sacrilegious, because it seems to say that Adam and
Eve had no choice; everything in life is doomed to
fall. Growing less innocent and more knowing seems
less a choice in Frost’s view than a natural process
like the changing of golden blossoms to green
leaves. “Eden sank to grief” not because we choose
to do evil things but because time takes away our
innocence as we encounter the suffering and loss of
human existence. Frost suggests that the real
original sin is that time has to pass and we all
must grow wiser and less innocent.
n Give your paper a compelling title. Like the introduction, a title should be
inviting to readers, giving them a sense of what’s coming. Avoid a nontitle such as
“A Rose for Emily,” which serves as a poor advertisement for your paper. Instead,
provide enough specifics to pique your reader’s interest. “On Robert Frost’s
‘Nothing Gold Can Stay'” is a duller, less informative title than “Lost Innocence
in Robert Frost’s ‘Nothing Gold Can Stay,'” which may spark the reader’s interest
and prepare him or her for what is to come.
Revision Steps
S Is your thesis clear? Can it be sharpened?
S Does all your evidence serve to advance the argument put forth in your
thesis?
S Is your argument logical?
S Do transitional words and phrases signal movement from one idea to the. next?
S Does each paragraph contain a topic sentence?
S Does your introduction draw the reader in? Does it prepare the reader for
what follows?
S Does your conclusion tie up the paper’s loose ends? Does it avoid merely
restating what has come before?
^ Is your title compelling?

4 thoughts on “Revising

  1. It’s really annoying. There are really pretty girls in my English literature class and I just stick out like a sore thumb.

  2. Join me tonight at 6 in Hum. 209 for BeanSwitch mtg. Misty Dunlap will be giving a short demo on what to look for in literature. James Bean

  3. English Literature, not learn how to get a job post-degree. Wouldn’t have minded doing it for one term but not all year.

  4. booksdirect: “That is part of the beauty of literature. You discover that your longings are universal longing…

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.