How to Ace Your Final Draft

I recently got back a midterm essay and, as it turns out, I didn’t do so well. I didn’t give myself enough time to fully flesh out my arguments, and ended up with lots of logic gaps as a result. I was pretty disappointed, but I realized that I could turn this setback into a learning opportunity. So for the final essay, I chose to develop the ideas from this paper, working through its problems and retooling arguments. With the process of rewriting in mind, I’ve compiled a few tips to help you revise drafts and papers.

  1. If your first draft wasn't great, you have an opportunity to reinvent your old ideas!
    If your first draft wasn’t great, you have an opportunity to reinvent your old ideas!

    Talk to your professor. This might be intuitive, but don’t revise your paper using only your professor’s notes in the margins. Ask in person what worked and what didn’t so you can get a better sense of where to go. Then continue from there.

  1. Start thinking about your thesis. Be honest with yourself, do you agree with it? Is it logical? My thesis was a huge part of what detracted from my essay, because I didn’t properly outline my ideas or prove the argument I had made. Think about how you could tweak your main argument relative to the evidence you already have so you avoid writing an entirely new paper.

3.Revisit the ideas from your first draft. It might be useful here to return to the drafting process and turn your paragraphs back into bullet points. This way you can outline each one’s argument to find new trends of logic, or gaps in your logic that you can fill with more evidence. Through this process I found that a main issue in my essay was misinterpretation; I missed the key ideas in a text that I sampled heavily from. Since the text I pulled still centered around a common theme, I just had to clarify these key ideas, reintegrate evidence and adapt my thesis accordingly.

4.Look at your structure. Now that you’ve recycled your ideas, does the order of your paragraphs still make sense? Each one should have a topic sentence and transitions between them. A good way to check the logical flow of ideas is to isolate and reread your topic sentences and transitions to see if your argument develops as the paper grows.

5.Kill your darlings. Each paragraph should have enough — and only enough — evidence to support your thesis. Though it might hurt to delete something you’ve put a lot of work into, sometimes the best thing you can do is cut extra information that repeats an idea or does nothing to complicate your argument, Trust me, it will make your work clearer.

If I hadn’t made mistakes in the first place, I never would have had the opportunity to reexamine my writing process. Rewriting is an opportunity to question and complicate your own logic, a useful skill for future papers. Inside a less-than-desirable essay grade is a chance to learn how to reinvent ideas and improve your writing along the way.

— Elise Freeman, Social Sciences Correspondent