Please contact the Writing Center if you’d like support in implementing these and other writing-related activities, either synchronously or asynchronously. We can design an activity specific to your students’ assignment or join your class virtually to lead workshops.
The primary aims of the Writing Center’s in-class revision workshops are for each writer to:
- see how their draft is working
- gain insight into what is clear and what is confusing
- engage in conversation with a reader
- and perhaps come to a new realization about what they are trying to say.
Additionally, these workshops often include a component in which writers reflect on their drafts and make plans for revision.
We have found reverse outlining to be an invaluable tool both for getting perspective on one’s own writing and for getting descriptive feedback from another.
What follows is an extensive activity for pairs of students that could be done in its entirety. Or you might want to use just a couple of sections, pick and choose questions, or simply use this as inspiration.
Step One: Read for Clarity
Read your partner’s paper not with a critical eye, but in order to “hear” what the writer is saying. Your aim is to be able to tell the writer your understanding of what is actually on the page—to describe to him/her what you believe s/he has said—so try not to add in what is in your own mind; focus on the page.
As you read your partner’s draft, use the margins or a comment feature to note your responses as a reader—someone interested in understanding—not as a judge or an editor. In other words, tell the writer about your experience as a reader—what’s compelling, confusing, surprising; what you’re wondering as you read; what comparisons or connections to other texts you are making; etc.
After you have read the paper, make a two-columned reverse outline of it in a new document or on a piece of paper you can photograph and upload for your partner. In one column, write the point the writer is making. In the other column, note the purpose or function of the paragraph. In other words, what is the writer saying, and why?
Check to see whether each paragraph begins with a topic sentence or signpost that makes an assertion, that makes explicit what point the writer is going to go on to develop in that paragraph. Each signpost should make clear the relationship between its paragraph and that which preceded it, as well as how its paragraph develops the larger argument of the essay.
If a paragraph does not begin with a strong signpost, look for a sentence that might make a good signpost somewhere else in the paragraph, such as at the end. If you don’t find a good signpost, write one that states the point of the paragraph clearly and directly; if possible, it should also make clear how this paragraph relates to the previous one and to the essay’s central claim.
If you can work synchronously with a partner, use a video, audio, or written chat to have a conversation about your papers, one paper at a time. If not, you can write to each other in Google Docs, a Moodle forum, or via email.
Start with the reader “saying back” what he heard the writer saying in her paper. Then the writer can confirm, clarify, correct, or otherwise respond to the reader’s understanding.
Next you might exchange readerly feedback with one another, either verbally or in writing.
Step Two: Consider the Argument & Use of Evidence
Together, discuss or write about:
Relationship between Parts and Whole
- What, specifically, is the writer arguing? How does her stated argument (in thesis) compare to the argument that seems to be emerging from the body of her essay? How might the writer modify his thesis to match the body? Or the body to match the thesis?
- What is the relationship between the argument the writer sets up in the beginning and the claims in the body of the paper? Do all of the body paragraphs help develop the writer’s larger point? How might the writer make more explicit the relationship between the whole and the individual parts?
Shape of the Paper
- Is there a logical progression of ideas in this paper? How do the ideas in one paragraph build on those in the previous one and lead to those in the next? Would it make a difference if the paragraphs were ordered differently? Is there a way to order the ideas that would be more compelling or make more sense?
- How might the writer make the logic of the essay more explicit? How might s/he better guide the reader on his or her journey through the essay?
Engaging with Sources
- Is each quotation preceded by a signal phrase that tells the reader what point it is illustrating and/or its context?
- Does the writer delve into the quotations after inserting them, showing or explaining to the reader what is interesting or important about them AND how they illustrate the point at hand?
- Is it clear when the writer is speaking and when the voice is that of another?
- Does the writer present clearly the scholarly conversation into which she is entering? Make clear how various sources speak to one another? Make clear her own position/contribution to the conversation?
- Is the thesis statement strong? Is the argument compelling enough? Do you need to dig deeper or push harder and come up with something more compelling to say?
- Does it make the reader want to read on to find out how the writer makes his or her case?
- What intellectual puzzle or problem is the essay setting out to resolve? Where is the tension in the topic?
- What is interesting or important about what the writer has to say? What are the implications of his or her argument? How does this argument contribute to or complicate the conversation about in which the texts you have read (and you, as a class of readers of them) have been participating in?
- Is the thesis debatable? Might a reasonable person disagree with it? Or would everyone familiar with the text agree that what you say is true? It is merely an announcement of a topic, or it is an assertion that will have to be proven?
- Is the thesis clear, direct, and specific? How might you make the thesis more clear, direct, specific, or assertive?
Step Three: Move Forward
After engaging with a reader about your own work, make a prioritized, step-by-step plan for revision.
Try fastwriting to gather your thoughts and to synthesize your ideas. For example, fastwrite (write without editing your words or ideas and without stopping) for 5-7 minutes in response to one of the prompts below.
- My argument will be more compelling if I …
- What I’m really trying to say in this essay is…
- I set out to explore/argue X, but I now see that I am actually arguing / I ought to argue that…
- My insights are significant because ….
- So what? I’ve made this argument, but why is it important? What are its implications?