How to master the rewrite of a research paper or term paper

An icon for rewriting an article and for other...As any professional writer knows, the hardest part of the writing process isn’t the writing itself, it’s the rewriting. Screenwriters, novelists, scientists and historians all go through it; the same goes for college students when it comes to rewriting a research paper or term paper. Writing the first draft should be the easy part. It’s the subsequent drafts that keep us up at night. So for those of you who find yourself in the rewriting phase, here are some tips on how to master the rewrite and stay focused.

The difference between rewriting and editing

While it can be tempting to confuse the two, the processes of rewriting and editing are different and best exercised separately to help strengthen the text. These are some key distinctions to keep in mind:

Editing

  • Deals exclusively with grammar, spelling, punctuation
  • Is hierarchical. Errors are fixed and submitted for a grade
  • Key structural points such as a thesis statement, transitions, introduction and conclusion are evaluated

Revising

  • Clarify points, expand arguments and explain evidence. Ideas are more detailed, paragraphs deleted and/or shifted. Vague text is more clearly defined.
  • Offer discussion and arguments between the writer and reader
  • Strengthen voice and create space for valid and separate opinions

Starting the rewriting process

Rewriting can be a long, tedious process, but by organizing your thoughts and time you can move through it efficiently and effectively. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Writing Center offers several useful points in “Revising Drafts.” Some of the tips include:

  • Wait a bit after finishing your first draft. That could mean a few hours, a few days, or even a few weeks before starting the rewriting so that you can look at your work with a fresh perspective.
  • Think big. Before you dig into the nitty gritty grammatical details, look at the overarching concepts in the paper
  • Be honest with yourself. Do you still agree with your thesis? If not, don’t be afraid to jump in and rework your argument.
  • Ask yourself if you’re staying on track. Now’s the time to double check that you’re sticking to the assignment and addressing all of the crucial questions and points outlined by your professor.

Don’t get too attached

Maybe you’ve poured your heart and soul into the first draft of a paper. You’ve done your research and made a passionate argument on a topic you believe in. Now that it’s all down on paper, the rewriting must begin. Only you don’t want to change anything. We’ve all been there. That crossroads where the real criticism begins and its you vs., well, you. To put it bluntly, get over yourself! As myriads of writers such as Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch, Orwell, and Faulkner have attested to, getting too attached to your first draft is a dangerous place to be. Ed Rodley, in his October 2, 2011 post, “‘Murder your darlings,’ and the importance of rewriting,” to his blog, Thing about museums, wrote about how he became too attached to his ideas, which in turn, caused his proposal to suffer.

“(It’s) not that you must not write things you like or love, but that you must be extra suspicious of them and be willing to expunge them when they don’t serve the purpose of the text,” Rodley wrote. “This is why God created editors and first readers.  When you love a piece of writing, it’s hard to be critical of it. Grant proposals, with their straightjacket page limits and rigid format, are no place for deathless prose for the sake of deathless prose.”

Find a mentor

For those who are working on rewriting a research paper, or working toward an advanced degree in research, one of your best resources is a mentor. Finding a professor or guide to walk through the fire with you can be invaluable in evaluating your work. Lourdes S. Bautista, Professor Emeritus of English and Applied Linguistics at De La Salle University in Manila, concurred in her December 17, 2006 article, “Advice to young researchers: getting started,” in the Manila Bulletin, that having a mentor not only helped her academic writing, but her academic career as a whole.

“(My mentor) would send notes to junior faculty members suggesting research topics; he would write extensive notes on the drafts of thesis chapters submitted to him; he would impatiently inquire about progress in the writing of one’s dissertation,” Bautista wrote. “He would forward flyers about national or international conferences and invite the recipients to submit abstracts; he would read articles written by faculty members and recommend further studies.”

What advice has helped you in the rewriting process? Please share your comments below.

For more information on research, writing and rewriting visit Questia’s topic page on Education.

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