Revising Drafts


Developing Source Dialogue—Revising Researched Writing

Purpose: This exercise focuses on research article revision.

Description: This revision exercise helps students identify source-heavy writing and work towards viewing source material as a "person" with whom they carry on a conversation. You'll want to have an excerpt, short essay, or film clip ready for Part 2. Choose one with an overtly opinionated bent/bias that is sure to elicit a response. For a video clip, something like Michael Moore's interview with Marilyn Manson would work.

Suggested Time: 35 minutes to full class period


Part 1:

  1. Ask students to bring two different-colored highlighters to class with their drafts. They’ll likely be in the later stages of drafting the research article, using a lot of source material.
  2. Talk about tone and narrative voice (probably a topic you dealt with at the beginning of drafting). Can they easily identify different "voices" in writing? More importantly, can they identify the voice of a source over their own?
  3. Now, have them take out the first highlighter color and find all the sentences on at least the first two or three pages that contain source material and highlight the from-source portions. Even if they have paraphrased the source, highlight it. 

    They’ll probably start to notice their pages turning pink, orange, yellow, or green – depending on the color of the highlighter! This is an indication that there’s too much source and not enough author-source dialogue. Explain that there should be no more than 20 percent strict source material in any article – the author’s voice and focus should always predominate. 

  4. Now, take out highlighter color two. Ask them to go through and mark those passages containing strictly author opinion, viewpoint, unique ideas, or thoughts. Most students will find this color a bit underused, but others will notice too much highlighter here if their source material was seriously lacking.
  5. Take a moment to diagnose the different problems these papers may be suffering from. Too much color one means source overload. Too much color two means empty opinion and guesswork. A comfortable balance means they’re probably doing well – but they can still benefit from developing smooth narrator-source dialogue.

Part 2: 

  1. Tell students that you’re going to play the part of a talking source by reading your chosen excerpt allowed (or playing your video clip). Read or play the sample, statement-by-statement, pausing at each point to allow students to write their honest, opinionated, conversational response to what the "source" has just said. They should pretend that they’re talking face-to-face with the author or speaker replying naturally and intelligently.
  2. Once you feel you’ve got sufficient conversation/dialogue generated on paper, ask a few students to read their replies as you reread the "source" (like a script), creating an actual conversation. Discuss handling sources as if in dialogue with them. Have students try this with highlighted source sections of their drafts.
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Make it Interesting/Make me Want to Read it: Catchy Openings

Purpose: This exercise works to develop strong first sentences and unique voices in student writing. 

Description: This is a voice activity demonstrating the fact that many student pieces could use more “personality” and that many of them sound exactly alike. This exercise is an attempt to help students enliven writing. This would work well with an early draft of a personal narrative or short story, but could be easily adopted for a research assignment.

Suggested Time: 30-40 minutes


1. Pull first sentences from some of your students’ papers and first sentences from published sources and mix them up. None of them are identified. 

2. Put them on the overhead and the students rank the sentences from most interesting to least interesting. Usually, their sentences are at the bottom of the list, and often, many of the writers do not recognize their own sentences.

3. After pointing out which sentences originated where, we then discuss why they ranked the high sentences as high as they did. We discuss voice and how the writers seem to get right into what they are writing about.

4. Then challenge students to rewrite opening sentences 3 or 4 different ways. After they feel like they have successfully done this, they share their sentences and discuss which work better or worse and why, than the original sentence.

5. As the final step of the exercise, have students rewrite introductory paragraphs to maintain the “more interesting” voice throughout. As a requirement for the next draft, they must sustain that interesting voice throughout the entire paper, demonstrating audience awareness.

Sample first sentences:

“The fellas and I were hanging out on our corner one afternoon when the strangest thing happened. A white boy, who appeared to be about eighteen or nineteen years old, came pedaling a bicycle casually through the neighborhood” (3).
–Nathan McCall, Makes Me Wanna Holler

“He came to kill the preacher. So he arrived early, extra early, a whole two hours before the evening service would begin” (193).
–Edwidge Danticat, The Dew Breakers

“By our second day at Camp Crescendo, the girls in my Brownie troop had decided to kick the asses of each and every girl in Brownie Troop 909” (1).
–Z.Z. Packer, “Brownies”

“I was fourteen that summer. August brought heat I had never known, and during the dreamlike drought of those days I saw my father for the first time in my life” (1).
–William Henry Lewis, “Shades”

“My desert-island, all-time, top five most memorable split-ups, in chronological order:
1. Alison Ashworth. 2. Penny Hardwick. 3. Jackie Allen. 4. Charlie Nicholson. 5. Sarah Kendrew.” (3).
–Nick Hornsby, High Fidelity

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petosky, Michigan, in August of 1974” (3).
–Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

“I lost an arm on my last trip home. My left arm” (9).
–Octavia Butler, Kindred

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Out from Under the Rug: Radical Revision

Purpose: A radical revision exercise that allows students to experiment with revision and rewrite their essays from different perspectives, endings, structures, etc.

Description: Students often dislike revising, particularly at the beginning of ENC 1101. They feel that whatever they’ve written is set in stone and cannot be changed. These exercises, which focus on rewriting a story, show students that revising is possible and can even improve a paper. This exercise allows students to begin with revising one essay as a class so they can get an objective feel for radical revision, and then the revision strategies can be extended to the student’s own draft so they can get something tangible to consider using for themselves. This exercise works well with an early draft of the short story assignment.

Suggested time: A full class period, continue as possible homework assignment.


1. Have students read “Out from Under the Rug” (2006-7 OOW) before class.
2. Ask students to rewrite a specific scene from the perspective of another character.
3. Rewrite the story with a different ending. Since this story is very dramatic, anything could happen. Have students rewrite the ending of the story using some of these suggestions:

  • Rory ends up with Landon
  • Rory breaks up with Aidan
  • Rory decides to be single
  • Landon and Aidan fight over Rory
  • Madison confesses her love for Aidan, Landon or Rory

4. Discuss how their revisions have changed the story. Is it better? Worse? How does the reader relate to the characters and the narrative action with the newly revised scenes? Does the story still make sense?
5. Ask students to revise a scene from their own papers from either a different perspective, or to completely change the ending of their story.

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Play It Again, Sam: Analysis vs. Summary

Purpose: To help students differentiate between analysis and summary and then apply that knowledge to their own drafts. This works in conjunction with any number of papers in the 1101 and 1102 strands, particularly well if the students are doing analysis of visual texts in their papers, though it can be adapted for written texts as well.

Description: Through visuals, this activity asks students to differentiate between summary (this is what happens) and analysis (this is why it happens) by watching a movie clip twice and writing two different texts in response. A successful clip is suggested here, but you will need access to whatever you show (via DVD, uTube, etc). The activity is also adaptable to a workshop format, requiring students to bring their drafts to class.

Suggested Time: About an hour

Procedure: Show an action-packed, short (5 min.) scene from a film, such as the clip from Pulp Fiction in which Vincent and Jules go to the apartment of the boys who have stolen Marcellus Wallace’s briefcase (Play it from when they walk into the apartment until they shoot them). This scene works well because there are a number of unanswered questions in it.

Ask students to write a one-paragraph summary of what they’ve seen, giving them +/- 10 minutes. Discuss what they came up with in their summaries, having them read their actual texts aloud. Be sure to note if something they say is analysis. Try to keep them focused on plot so that they understand the genre conventions of summary. Make note of what delineates a good summary on the board (features like tone or objectivity, selectivity or inclusivity, etc).

Show the clip again. Encouraging them to watch closely to see if we missed anything. When it’s finished, ask them to turn their papers over and write a one-paragraph analysis. Make sure to give them at least 10 minutes this time. Discuss their responses again, noting if something is summary. I write the analytical points on the board. This might take a little prodding, but once they get the hang of it, you should have no shortage of responses.

This can also help with the concepts of claims and evidence-- be wary of students jumping to conclusions and ask them for evidence from the text (film) to support their claims. Take one of the responses and start a deeper, discussion-based analysis. What conclusions can we draw about, say, the briefcase in the Pulp Fiction scene? How do we know this?

To adapt this exercise to a workshop:

Ask the students to break into pairs and read each other’s drafts in search of summary, circling the portions they find. Afterwards, have the students discuss how the summary portions might become analysis. Some groups may need a little guidance, others will get it right away.

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Proofreading Pitfalls Handout for Self-Editing

Purpose: This short paragraph makes a good handout, or discussion-started on the overhead some time before the final drafts of a paper are due.

Description: This is not so much an exercise as it is a demonstration for good proofreading skills. I sometimes cut-up and distribute this paragraph to the class, or you could just project it if you have a tech room.

Procedure: Show/distribute the following for discussion:

According to rscheearch at an Elingsh uinervtisy, it deosn’t myyaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. this is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter.

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Raising the Stakes: Adding Tension and Intensity to a Story

Purpose: This exercise helps students learn to become more effective writers of fiction. It could be quite useful in any course in which a composition assignment focuses on writing fiction. 

Description: Taking into consideration noted author (and retired FSU faculty member) Janet Burroway’s advice that “only trouble is interesting” and studying her example of turning a dull situation into an interesting one, students practice turning a series of dull situations into interesting ones.

Suggested Time: This could easily take an entire class period. 

Procedure: Present the following information to your students. In her book, Writing Fiction, Janet Burroway explains a very important aspect of fiction writing:

Only trouble is interesting. This is not so in life. Life offers periods of comfortable communication, peaceful pleasure, and productive work, all of which are extremely interesting to those involved. But such passages about such times by themselves make for dull reading; they can be used as lulls in an otherwise tense situation, as a resolution, even as a hint that something awful is about to happen. They cannot be used as a whole plot. (29)

Using this quote as a guiding principle, take the following situations and rewrite them. Turn a dull situation into something worth reading. First, here's an example from Burroway's book:

Example of a dull situation: Joe goes on a picnic. He finds a beautiful deserted meadow with a lake nearby. The weather is splendid and so is the company. The food's delicious, the water's fine, and the insects have taken the day off. Afterward someone asks Joe how his picnic was. "Terrific," he replies, "really perfect."

Example of a situation worth reading about: At the picnic, Joe sets his picnic basket on an anthill. Joe and his friends race for the lake to get cold water on the bites, and one of Joe's friends goes too far on the plastic raft, which deflates. He can't swim, and Joe has to save him. On the way in he gashes his foot on a broken bottle. When Joe gets back to the picnic, the ants have taken over the cake, and a possum has demolished the chicken. Just then the sky opens up. When Joe gathers his things to race for the car, he notices an irritated bull has broken through the fence. The others run for it, but because of his bleeding heel the best he can do is hobble. Joe has two choices: try to outrun him or stand perfectly still and hope he's interested only in a moving target.

Now, rewrite the following situations to make them more interesting:

Dull Situation #1: Joe, his roommate, and his girlfriend take a trip to the bowling ally. They bowl three games together, and each person wins one game. There's a group of three high school boys in the lane next to them who courteously challenge them to a team game. The game ends in a tie, and everyone shakes hands afterwards. Joe even promises to help tutor one of them in math, and his girlfriend buys everyone sodas. They all have a great time.

Dull Situation #2: Joe and his parents take a trip to the movies. They rarely take these trips together, but Joe is confident they will enjoy whatever film he chooses for them to see. He decides on a romantic drama starring Robert Redford and Michelle Pfieffer, and they all enjoy it. Afterward his parents take him out for coffee and pastry. His mother comments on the fine acting, and his father, in a rare display of emotion, cries when asked how he feels about the plot. Joe pats his father on the back, and then leaves them with a feeling of contentment.

Dull Situation #3: Joe travels across the country to visit an ex-girlfriend. They meet at a restaurant to talk about old times. Both of them are now married, and they each discuss how happy they are in their respective relationships. His ex-girlfriend's husband arrives at the restaurant and buys the three of them a round of drinks. He and Joe have a great time talking about football. They even find ways to give Joe's ex-girlfriend a hard time about the days of her youth. Joe feels no regret about the encounter and arrives at the hotel thinking of his wife. Once he enters his hotel room, he calls her long distance to tell her everything. "I miss you," he says as soon as she picks up the phone.

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Stylistic Revision: Maximizing Clarity and Directness

Purpose: The goal of Stylistic Revision is to concentrate on sentence construction in later revisions, focusing on concision and detail. It is designed to engage students with their essays on a sentence to sentence level that will enable them to write in a clear, concise, immediate style.

Description: This exercise should be helpful in the later drafting stages. Students will be required to pay close attention to language and to their closings. By this point, the students should have the bulk of their essays written and are therefore focused on revising and polishing their essays. The design of this exercise is to assist with sentence-by-sentence revision, thereby maximizing clarity and directness.

Suggested Time: 45 minutes


This exercise has two parts:

Part I: Avoiding Passive Voice [Create passive voice handout with examples if you feel it is necessary.]

  1. Pass out individual copies of “Another Fish Story” to students at the beginning of class. Ask them to take 10 minutes to read over it, underlining instances of passive voice and also any striking similes or metaphors.
  2. Have a brief discussion about what they underlined, including a brief discussion of passive voice, using examples from the essay.
  3. Students should pick a paragraph of their choice and rewrite with the knowledge taken from discussion (and their own) using active, immediate language.
  4. Share with class!

Part II: Ending the Essay 

  1. Now discuss the closing paragraphs of the essay, describing what’s working, what they notice, what strikes them, what doesn’t, etc. Discuss ways to tighten the language, avoiding clichés and generalities. Also discuss how to close the essay without being conclusive, avoiding the traditional modes of restating what’s already been said, etc.
  2. After discussion have students rewrite the last paragraph avoiding clichés, etc.
    implementing also what was discussed in Part I.
  3. Share!

Have students implement this exercise in their own work for the next revision.

Additional Information: This exercise is a lesson in language, not in grammar.

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The Wet Beagle: Show Me, Don't Tell Me Workshop

Purpose: To prepare students for workshopping and the writing of their first paper. An easy exercise for demonstrating descriptive writing - and descriptive responding.

Suggested Time: An entire class session

Description: This is a way of showing your students which subjects and what language are worthwhile for the paper assignment they are drafting, and also what you expect from workshop sessions. You'll write a 3-page draft (not too long to go over in a class period) of the paper your students are writing to go over with the class in order to model both workshopping and what is possible for the assignment (typically the first assignment). This can be a good exercise to do after the class has read Rick Straub's "Responding, Really Responding, to Student Writing".

Procedure: Write a 3 page draft on the same topics your students are writing. Experienced TA’s may want to use past student papers of In Our Own Words but I advocate writing one yourself. If you write the paper then you can make sure it has all the positive and negative qualities that you desire. Don’t be concerned about the time involved, it is not extensive--I write mine in less than half an hour--just don’t proofread it (remember, you want there to be stupid mistakes and sloppy, undescriptive writing). You can also use the same paper over and over again in later semesters. Be creative, you ask that of your students. If this is a personal paper assignment, and you don’t want to share any moments with your students, make one up, or don’t tell them that you wrote it.

Overall it is a "show, don’t tell" exercise. Rather than tell my students what to do I show them in my own paper. This is an excellent way to show them what types of subject matter and language you think are worthwhile. I want my students to feel as though they can and should write anything they want so I try to choose personal (often embarrassing but serious) topics. I also show them uses of language, such as ways to use curse words effectively in an essay. I find next to nothing offensive and use this as a way of showing that.

However, this exercise can be tailor-made to show whatever you don’t want (repetitive, redundant, too long, too boring, spelling mistakes, grammar errors). However, at the core use some decent writing and some good techniques. The essay I use (for the first assignment) uses a flashback and "show don’t tell" techniques to try to tell the story of an entire night in actual time of a few minutes (both flashbacks and showing are new to and risky for students). I tried to make an opener that would suck-in the reader and make them want to read more (another thing I emphasize in my classes). I also try to get them to use interesting or at least uncommon titles (thus the name of the exercise) that add to the paper. It also works well to make a first and second draft of your paper and show students how to workshop and the process of drafting at the same time. Leave the second draft open for improvements.

The Workshop:

Project the example paper on the overhead screen and workshop it as a class, going paragraph by paragraph. You may wish to print the draft out and use the light board, as actually writing on the draft is helpful for modeling good feedback. Another option is to stand at the computer station and demonstrate the COMMENTS function in Word as you project the document. Choose the option that best replicates the eventual workshop situation your students will soon be in.

As you workshop, praise comments that are useful and don’t let students give responses like "I like that" or "I don’t like that--it sucks." Make them tell you WHY and ELABORATE on why they don’t like something. In essence, show them what you want from them as workshop responders. My classes always found things that I had missed in my own writing, and more often than not, found everything that I was hoping they would find. It is usually one of the best things I do all semester long.

I usually close by asking them how they would respond to this as a first draft. I ask if it has potential, should be scrapped, etc. Then I tell them how I would respond--this tends to give them as idea of what to expect.

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Titles (Say So Much)

Purpose: The purpose of this exercise is to help students recognize the importance of titles, showing students that there needs to be a balance of creativity and information.

Description: This is a class discussion activity that begins with analyzing the title of an 18th century chapbook, and then asks students, as a class or in groups, to examine book titles. Finally, students exchange their own essays with titles in order to critique the effectiveness of each title.

Suggested Time: 40 min

Procedure: Start by reading aloud, or writing on the board (if you have an interactive classroom there are even better ways) the following title. I make a point of not completing it in writing but reading the last of it instead.

"A very surprising narrative of a young woman, discovered in a rocky-cave, after having been taken by the savage Indians of the wilderness in the year 1777, and seeing no human being for the space of nine years. In a letter from a gentleman to a friend."

[A chapbook from America, between 1788-1851. Chapbooks were the Reader’s Digest of the period; cheaply printed and pedaled by traveling booksellers.]

Possible “script” when reading the title: In this story, “A most beautiful young Lady sitting near the mouth of a cave” [oh, I bet, after 9 years she musta been somethin’ else] is discovered by two travelers in the wilderness. After recovering from a faint upon seeing them, “Heavens! Where am I?” she exclaims, and proceeds to tell them that she and her lover had been attacked by Indians, who murdered her lover and captured her. She chewed threw her bonds [this sound fishy to anyone else?], and in order to escape: “I did not long deliberate but took up the hatchet he had brought and, summoning resolution I, with three blows [she took note to count them, apparently], effectually put an end to his existence [axes will do that].” She managed also to lop off his head, quarter the corpse, and drag it half-a-mile to some foliage she figured could use the fertilizer, and hid it. She’d been growing Indian corn ever since. Of course, once returned home by her rescuers, she is reunited with her father, who’s so happy to see her again he dies and leaves her a handsome fortune. (From Popular Culture in American History, Jim Cullen ed.)

Ask questions like, “Boy, wonder what happens in that story!? Do you want to read it? What’s wrong with it? How does it lose your attention? I explain that print culture has changed in these decades, that books then couldn’t afford advertising or enticing covers to inspire readership, and that no print could be spared for a back cover description. So, the title became the description. People also had much longer attention spans and fewer competing stimuli!”

This leads into the present day, and how this story could be adapted – or what stories/movies they know of that seem to have borrowed this theme. How can we make it better? What would you title the story?

After we’ve exhausted this discussion, I move on to titles of the present, and how/why they work. On the board, write the following title and discuss it:


  • How does this title work?
  • Does IT make you curious? Why?
  • What things do we associate with the term “it” (It’s gonna get you! It’s out there!)
  • How does the size of the book make you ironically interested in terms of the title? (book huge, title small = something’s going on with “it”!)

Then, either as a class in groups ask them to examine what the titles make them think and what they imagine the cover of the books would look like.

Lord of the Flies

  • Oxymoron creates interest
  • What do we associate flies with? (dead things, feces, etc) How does this make the word “lord” more intriguing?

Kick Ass

  • Carl Hiaasen’s collected editorials from the Miami Herald
  • How does it grab attention? Why?
  • Dual function, it’s also a statement of Carl’s personal philosophy of metropolitan journalism. “Turn over rocks. Dig out the dirt. Kick ass.”

Something Wicked This Way Comes

  • Speaks for itself: what’s coming?
  • Turn of phrase is out of the ordinary, and is both pleasing and dissonant to the ear.

All the King’s Men

  • Nursery rhyme plays on our common knowledge and we recall the rest of the tale, makes us curious about how this one will turn out
  • Begins in mid-phrase, requiring us to fill it in, leaving us hanging 

Where the Red Fern grows

  • Where? Curiosity’s raised by implication. Who cares about ferns? There has to be something else going on there, we think.
  • The color red paints sinister pictures in the mind. 

G.I. Jane

  • We recall the common phrase “G.I. Joe” and are interested by the switch.
  • We know enough about this story by inference to maintain some interest. 

"Let’s Get World Serious" 

  • Title of a Sport’s Illustrated article, by Rick Riley.
  • How does the switch of the word “series” to the near “serious” have an effect?
  • How does it target its appropriate audience – sports fans?

I complete the discussion by extending the invitation: Can you guys think of any good ones, and why are they good?

Then, ask students to exchange their essays and essays titles with each other and critique the titles based on how interesting they are and how well it relates to the essay’s topic.

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What Is It? Enriching Descriptive Writing

Purpose: This exercise stimulates students to enrich their descriptive writing by using a plain object and writing about it in an extravagant way—using lots of detail, metaphor, and imagery. It makes students develop and possibly appreciate a creative approach to the writing method.

Description: Students will take a normal object and write a creative description and narrative about the object of their choice. By following a set of questions provided by the instructor, students will write a prose style response – not just a list or catalog.

Suggested Time: 30 – 35 minutes

Procedure: Students should pick an object that they have easy and tangible access – a pen, teddy bear, a washcloth, ID card, whatever they desire. They should then write a creative response using the following questions or a similar format: 

  1. You look around the room and see your object. How well can you see it? Where is the light coming from?
  2. You walk over to your object. How many steps did it take?
  3. Your object is lying next to several other things. One of these things reminds you of something or someone else. What does it remind you of?
  4. Pick up the object. How heavy is it? Can you toss it in the air?
  5. Put the object close to your eyes, so close that it becomes blurry. What do you see? (tiny bumps? little lines?)
  6. Put your object against your ear. Does it make a sound? What does that sound (or lack of sound) remind you of?
  7. Put your object under your nose. What does it smell like? What does the scent remind you of?
  8. While you have the object this close to your face, you might as well taste it. Go ahead, stick out your tongue. What is that taste? What does it remind you of?
  9. You are getting tired of this exercise. Get rid of your object. Dispose of it somehow. How did you get rid of it and how do you feel now that it is gone?

In order for students to successfully complete the exercise, each question must be answered in sentence form. Encourage students to be creative in the description of the object and its purpose.

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