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Revision: Argument and Thesis

Revision: Argument and Thesis

Author: Gavin McCall

This lesson teaches revision strategies with an emphasis on the thesis and "big picture" in argumentative essays.

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Welcome to English Composition. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me. What are we going to learn today? We'll be looking at the revision process and focusing on the thesis, argument, and how these fit into the big picture view. Then, we'll look at an example. As we'll remember, revision is the step in the writing process when we revision and rethink an essay, including it's structure, ideas, and support.

Revision is different from editing, which is focused on improving style, and is different from proofreading, which is all about fixing technical errors. With argumentative essays, revision is an especially important part of the writing process because arguments require the writer to do a lot of intellectual work as he or she develops, researches, and supports the argument. This kind of writing also offers writers an additional challenge as they have to then write and defend their arguments in a way that's clear and effective for the intended readers.

It's a lot to have to do and think about, and at times, it can feel like we have to do it all simultaneously. This is where the revision process comes in. It's an opportunity to pause, to step back and allow yourself to take some time after an initial draft. Ideally, a few days between drafts will help take an argument from fine to excellent, good to great, from mediocre to strong, because the time spent away from the writing project will help you clear your head, so when you do return to it, you'll be able to see it more clearly.

And when you return to your draft, the first thing to do is look again, revision it with attention to the thesis and the argument as a whole, the big picture.

Because the thesis is the key point of an essay, it's imperative that when revising, we make sure that the thesis accurately and effectively represents the core of the argument. Likewise, we also need to be certain that the argument develops and supports its thesis. In order to begin the writing process with the big picture in mind, there are four critical steps.

First, we need to quickly assess the thesis to make sure it's clearly stated and that it still represents the argument that we want to make. If not, we should make a quick note of what doesn't seem right and plan to return to it. Before making any changes though, we need to read through the whole essay, keeping the thesis or our plan to change the thesis in mind. Try to maintain a broad, big picture perspective of the whole argument as you read, how it's developing versus how it might be able to develop, how strong it is and any possible gaps in terms of logic, sources, or counterarguments, and then the ideas you have for improving them.

We should be taking notes, but at this point, shouldn't let ourselves get too distracted by minute details. Then, we should return to the thesis. And ask again whether the argument we've just read, including plans for improvement, is represented by the thesis. If not, we need to adjust the thesis or think about how we might be able to adjust the argument to benefit the thesis instead, whichever approach best honors our intentions for the essay.

Finally, we should go back through our notes on the argument and add, cut, or change whatever needs to be added, cut, or changed in order to enhance the argument as a whole. Now, let's look at an example of this kind of revision. Let's say I'm working on an essay that argues against standardized testing, particularly standardized tests like the SAT and ACT, tests used by colleges to determine eligibility.

My argument is essentially that colleges and universities should pay far less attention to standardized tests because these tests don't have much do with future performance in college. All the tests test for-- I argue in my draft-- is test taking skills. I've got sources that talk about how test prep classes can raise scores, and how it's primarily upper and middle class students, predominately white students, English speaking at home students, who do best in these tests, disproportionately so compared to their grades either in high school or later in college.

I had been using the sources primarily to support my argument that SAT and ACT tests, and those like them, aren't accurate predictors of college success since they primarily test people on their ability to take tests and on how much preparation they went through beforehand. But after re-reading my essay with the thesis in mind, I realized that there's an entire aspect of this argument that's missing from my initial draft and these sources were already discussing it.

The thing is I've been so focused on my thesis that I hadn't noticed when writing. Part of what these sources were discussing was institutionalized bias. Since these tests tend to favor upper and middle class, primarily white students, any argument against the test should probably discuss why this is or at least what it means. So now, I'm planning a new section of my essay that will discuss the political implications of making one standard test. Who makes the questions, and who decides what's tested, what's not?

If the results of the test are that a particular demographic consistently scores better than another, then this means the tests are biased and that the bias in the test is being passed on to college admissions too. I'll probably need to find another source or two that's directly discussing this, hopefully, one from somewhere within the academic community so it doesn't seem like I'm just attacking the institution as a whole instead of just the standardized test part of it.

I'll also probably want to change my use of my current sources to better reflect this new angle. Or, at least, I'll end up expending my citations from them since I'm now going to be making an argument that more closely aligns with theirs. First though, I need to modify my thesis a little to better reflect this new aspect of my argument. So here's what I came up with.

"Colleges and universities should pay far less attention to potential students' standardized test scores since these tests are not accurate predictors of future academic success, but rather reflect the biased assumptions of the mainstream academic community, which tends to favor upper and middle class students, and to disadvantage students of diverse backgrounds."

So as you can see, my argument, while not necessarily that different, can now incorporate a new angle, a new branch of support. And now that my thesis reflects this difference, the next draft of my essay will be stronger and, I hope, more engaging as well.

What did we learn today? We learned about revising arguments with the big picture in mind, and then we looked at an example of the effect this kind of perspective can give a writer. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.