When we revise, we are now doing the hard part of writing. Hopefully, the Parthenon now exists in your mind. Revising is creating something that can build the same building in the reader’s mind.
Consider what’s involved. You’ve got something all worked out in your mind. You may even be visualizing it as a three-dimensional figure. It has parts. It’s complicated and there are a lot of relationships and connections among the parts. Language, spoken or written, is a linear medium. First, you say something. Then you say something else. Then. Then. Then. And finally, you say the last thing. Written language is often one-dimensional. So how can you send a complex system of ideas - your argument - through this narrow channel? Well there’s 3d scanners now, and the Internet is pretty good at sending lots of 1s and 0s, and there’s 3d printers now. So if I can scan a bird house, and beam the data to a printer on another continent, and it can be printed out, there must be a way to do this.
I'll be your mirror...
Feedback from a reader helps a lot when you are revising. But criticism can be hard to take when you're unsure of what you're doing. I think a lot of people, even teachers, assume that feedback is: “This is bad, this is bad, you did this wrong, this is OK… Etc.” No! The best feedback at this stage is when someone holds up a mirror to you so you can see your argument from the outside.
Just ask someone to read your stuff, and then ask them, “Before you start, can you please tell me what you got out of my writing? Can you summarize what you read? Then you can say what you thought.” A good reader will then neutrally paraphrase your thesis statement, the structure of your argument, and how it came to a conclusion (the thesis statement), all without editorializing. Then they may also have some comments, and that's fine too. But the mirror is the most helpful part. If you built your Parthenon in their mind, then they will be able to repeat it back to you. If not, then you know what to work on. Chances are it'll be half-half. You will be surprised at how people can misunderstand the most incredibly…! obvious…! things…! that I said a million times…! (Ahem… Excuse me.) The point of mirroring is to simply identify the parts where the reader needs a little handholding.
Play it again, Sam...
The main way you build an argument in your reader’s mind is, basically, through strategic repetition. Revising is when you will be able to survey your argument and see where you need to repeat yourself, hopefully not in the exact same words, but hey, whatever works. Take the thesis statement. You say it up front, hopefully first. You announce to the reader what the goal of this paper is. Every time you take a step towards the goal, when you provide evidence, for instance, you reiterate the goal, and you explicitly say, “I have taken a step toward convincing you that my thesis is the answer. Now we will move on to another step. At the end, you will see why I have reached my conclusions.” Then at the end, you state your thesis again. You earned it, and now when you say it, you can be confident that the reader gets it, because you led the reader there.
All this repeating can sound very stilted, boring, stodgy… Good. It can sound basic. Good. It can sound like it’s really obvious, and you may think, “Shouldn’t uni essays reflect higher virtues?” No. It’s not obvious, because your reader doesn’t know what you know. And you don’t need to worry about how it ‘sounds’. It’s not about sounding impressive or slick. It’s about punching the reader in the face with your thesis statement over and over. The best writers wear velvet gloves when they do this, but they are still punching away. All of this becomes clearer as you revise an early draft. Remember when Lisa Simpson went to Washington, D.C.? Revising.
Archer, Wes. 1991. “Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington.” The Simpsons, Episode #8F01. Fox Broadcasting Company, September 26. http://www.snpp.com/episodes/8F01.html.