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Revising for Clarity and Focus

Revising for Clarity and Focus

Author: Gavin McCall

This lesson describes how to revise an essay for clarity and focus on the thesis.

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Welcome to English Composition. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.

What are we going to learn today? We're going to learn about how to revise for clarity and focus, which is two primary aspects-- revising for content and for the rhetorical situation. Then we'll look at an example text so we can see how this kind of revision works.

As we should remember, revision is the process of revisioning and rethinking and essay-- its structure, ideas, and support. Because all parts of any essay should be supporting its thesis. It's important to keep it in mind when revising. There are several key strategies for revising with an eye for content and the thesis. Probably the best way to begin the process is to read through the essay and ask yourself if you still agree with the thesis, and if the thesis expresses your point effectively and concisely.

It's not uncommon for writers thinking to change over the course of a draft that the first thing to do is look at what you've written and make sure it's still in line with your current thinking. Assuming that's the case, you should go through each of the essay's body paragraphs and ask whether or not it's supporting the thesis, if it tackles only one topic, and if there are any points or sentences that should be cut, even if they're interesting or tangentially related.

It's also a good idea to ask about the paragraph's structure. Does it have a strong topic sentence? Are the ideas clear? And does it have all the transitions it needs between sentences, points, ideas, and support? Look at the body paragraphs again, and ask if there are any other points or ideas that should be included to make this a stronger, more interesting, or more complex.

Now consider the evidence. Is it enough to adequately support the topic sentence of each paragraph, and is there better evidence you could be using? If you're using sources, have you represented them fairly and accurately? Now look at the introduction. Does it still lay out the thesis adequately? It's common for the introduction to need to change at this point, especially if it was written first.

Ask whether the introduction is engaging, and if it's likely to encourage the reader to keep reading. I generally recommend drafting with a skeleton introduction for just this reason. I found that it's hard to write an effective introduction before I've written a complete draft, but I always feel the need to start somewhere besides the body paragraphs.

And last, but never least, you should consider the conclusion. Ask if or how well it wraps up the argument. If there's anything you can add or change to make it more interesting or complicated at the end, now's the time. When revising, it's also very important that writers think about the rhetorical situation in which they write. These are some good questions to ask of you essay at this point in the revision process.

What is the purpose of this essay? Is this draft fulfilling it? And if not, what could be added, changed, or adjusted in order to do so? Who's the intended audience? Is the text written in such a way as to appeal to or convince them? And again, if not, what could be added, changed, or adjusted in order to do so? We should also ask whether the essay contains any instances of bias or unstated assumptions and if so, if that's a problem. Should it be called out, or should something be adjusted to be less biased or to clarify the assumption being made?

Now let's take some time and see what asking these kinds of questions can do for our text. Here's my take on an unclear and unfocused introductory paragraph. Some people say that the reason the US is hated in the Middle East is our soldiers on the ground. Drone attacks come from a blue sky and strike anywhere. At least, that's what it must seem like for those living in targeted cities and villages. The real problem behind US involvement in the Middle East is that no matter what else we do, the children are afraid to look up in the sky, because there might be an unmanned aircraft full of missiles hanging somewhere up there, invisible and silent. This will always be what people think of when they hear the word "America." That makes me sad.

I've already gone through a revision process for this paragraph. Here's the new version I came up with. Now I'll try to talk you through the changes I made and why I made them. The first thing I noticed when I started asking questions about this paragraph is that the first sentences were not particularly engaging. They did a pretty good job of introducing what I was going to argue as a misconception-- that soldiers are what people think of when they hear America-- but I thought I could do more to draw out the suspense, so I changed the first sentences. And now I think this introduction is doing more to engage the reader and more to clearly state the topic-- drone attacks as the new face of war.

The new introduction reads-- there was a time when the people of the Middle East upon hearing the word America would immediately picture an armed soldier. This is no longer the case, as we've given them something new to fear. There's a new face of American War in the Middle East-- drones.

And when I asked myself about evidence, which I knew was a weakness in this part of the draft, I decided to add a reference to one of my sources earlier on. It's a text that I quote from later, but I thought I should cite it sooner rather than later, since I wanted to let the readers know I'm not the only one drawing my conclusions about drones. And I also wanted to change the last line, since upon reading it, I realized it had two problems. One, it wasn't stating my thesis, but rather implying it. And two, since I'm planning on publishing this piece to a political news and opinion site whose audience are primarily college students and literary enthusiasts-- people I can generally assume are against the War on Terror and who have read articles against the war before-- I should just write what I feel without worrying about offending anybody. I think the new end to this paragraph states the thesis in better, if also uncompromising, terms, and I think this is more in line with my purpose in writing and the audience as I understand it.

What did we learn today? We learned about revising for clarity and focus, how to ask questions about our essay's content and the rhetorical situation in which we wrote it. Then we saw the differences this kind of revision can make. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.