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Revision: Ideas, Paragraphs, Counterarguments, and Support

Revision: Ideas, Paragraphs, Counterarguments, and Support

Author: Gavin McCall

This lesson teaches how to revise an argumentative essay at the detailed level with a focus on ideas, paragraphs and topic sentences, counterarguments, and support.

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

What are we going to learn today? Today, we'll be learning about revising arguments, revising the details in mind, that is. We'll also look at an example of this kind of revision.

As we should remember, revision is a step in the writing process when we revision and rethink an essay, including its structure, ideas, and support. Revision is different from editing, which is focused on improving style, and it's a separate process from proofreading, which is all about fixing technical errors.

A key aspect of revising an argument is individually assessing the ideas, including counterarguments and individual paragraphs, as well as the support used for them. This would be the focus of today's discussion of revision.

Once a writer has taken a pass at revising at the big picture level, it's time to begin revising with an eye for specific details. When beginning this kind of revision, there are several key steps. First, we should make sure that each paragraph has a topic sentence, and that the paragraph is focused solely on supporting that topic sentence.

Then we should make sure that each topic sentence supports the thesis. And, because there will likely be more arguments or ideas that we could possibly incorporate into one essay, we also need to make sure that we've chosen only the best, most compelling, strongest, and most relevant points to support our thesis.

Then we should go paragraph to paragraph and evaluate the point being made, asking if it is clear and if it could be made stronger, if anything should be cut or added to do so. We should also go paragraph by paragraph and evaluate the sources used to support each point, looking to ascertain that each source is effective for supporting the thesis as well as the paragraph's topic sentence, and whether or not we've introduced the source fairly and effectively and explained its value or relevance to the essay's argument, instead of just dropping in a quote.

And again, we should ask if there's anything we should add, cut, or move. Then we should pause and examine the essay's use of counterarguments, making sure we've addressed the strongest and most credible of them. And if so, whether we fairly and accurately represented the opposing side's perspective.

If we think that the other side would agree with our representation of their argument, even if they don't actually agree with our final conclusion, that's a very good sign for our accuracy and our ethical use of their arguments. We should also ask whether we've then effectively restated the validity of our own position, claims, and thesis.

Then we should turn our attention to the introduction, or expanding the drafting of the introduction if, like many experienced writers do, we've waited until now to really put it together. We need to make sure that the first lines of our essay are compelling and interesting, and that they begin to lay out the stakes and the parameters of the argument. We should ask whether it includes a compelling hook, and if not, how else we plan to grab the reader's interest.

We should also look at the thesis and how it's being articulated in this opening section. Finally, we should also focus our attention on the conclusion, asking ourselves what kind of conclusion it is and if there any other ways to clarify our argument's ideas, or expand upon additional possibilities for research in conversations, especially those that are related to, but beyond the scope of our essay.

At this point, we should make sure that the thesis has been clearly proven, and that it feels like the most important component of the conclusion. Now let's take a look at what this kind of revision can actually look like.

Here's a paragraph from an essay I've been working on for a while now. The working title I've got for it is "On Stupidity, or Why I Ride," and it's about a motorcycle accident I was involved in and my thought processes going into and after the accident. This is the introduction of my latest draft.

"Last summer I crashed my motorcycle. Through the months of my rehabilitation for the injuries I got in the accident, which are technically ongoing, and for which I've yet to be fully compensated by the insurance company, I've had a lot of time to think about how I got to this point. I started thinking about it during the Vicodin-induced haze in which I spent the first few days after my accident.

"Mostly, I spent the time reading and watching TV while trying to find a comfortable position in which I could both eat ice cream and not bleed on my bed sheets, but in my ever-expanding moments of lucidity, I had time to think about my decision-making process. I've come to the conclusion that the process was faulty. And I'm having a hard time blaming myself for it, leading me to be inevitable conclusion that I am stupid."

As you can see, this is a work in progress. I think it's doing a fairly good job of introducing the subject and explaining the scope of the argument. Essentially, that this is about my own decision making process and that in the application of it to other people, it's up to the reader. Sure, I'm definitely implying that there are probably other people who knowingly make stupid decisions, but I'm not trying to lecture them.

If anything, I'm making an argument about what decisions really are. I do think I could do more to hook my reader, though. Considering that it's a motorcycle crash I'm talking about, the first line is pretty bland, so I've made myself a note to look at that. I think I could also trim out some of the ideas and details here, and hopefully speed up the essay a little while avoiding side topics, like how awfully the insurance company of the lady who hit me behaved.

That's another essay, perhaps, but not a part of this one. I think I've also got to make a few changes to the way I'm articulating my thesis. It's a kind of complicated thing I'm trying to say here. It's not just that because I knew the dangers going into it that the injuries I suffered in the accident are my fault, and I was therefore stupid for trying to learn to ride in the first place.

I'm also trying to get at the problem that I haven't learned from my poor decision, since I haven't given up riding, even after all it cost me. So I've got to do something about that. And hopefully when I do, I'll articulate in a way that's more appropriate for an academic conversation.

Anyway, here's the revised version of my introduction. I'll read it through again, so try to look and listen for the changes. Hopefully I'll have cleared up most of the problems I was having.

"Last summer, I bought a motorcycle, learned to ride, and crashed, in that order. Through the months of my rehabilitation for the injuries I got in the accident, I've had a lot of time to think about how I got to this point. I started thinking about it during the Vicodin-induced haze in which I spent the first few days after my accident.

"Mostly, I spent the time trying to find a comfortable position in which I could both eat ice cream and not bleed on my bed sheets. But in my ever-expanding moments of lucidity, I had time to think about my decision-making process. And now I've mostly recovered physically, I've come to the conclusion that the process was faulty. And more personally troubling, I'm having a hard time blaming myself for it, leading me to the inevitable conclusion that I'm stupid.

Or, at least, that I do stupid things and then refuse to feel bad about doing them, which is worse, because a consciously bad decision is not the same thing as an unconsciously that decision. One, you can learn from, while I, evidently, haven't learned a thing."

Now let's look at one more paragraph, this time the concluding paragraph of the same essay we were just working on.

"Even now, a part of me is proud of my injuries, if only for the simple reason that in doing so I was looking up to the role of the tough, risk-taking, danger-denying, non-thinking male. I wear my limp and my scars knowing that I got them while playing the role society has chosen for me. And try as I might, I can't make myself feel ashamed of the pride.

"At least, not really, though I sometimes wonder what other men or other women think about when recovering from injuries. It's an interesting process, feeling yourself stronger every day. And if only could forget that you're only getting closer to normal, it would be amazing. I know it's stupid to be proud of having hurt myself, but this doesn't stop me from feeling that way.

"The embarrassment I felt in knowing that I could have saved myself all the pain and effort probably outweighed the pride, even in the beginning. But it didn't make up for. And my ability to understand the process I'm going through, to see and to question my actions, separates me from my ancestors, and from the creatures with less sentient control over their actions. But in the end, it didn't, and it hasn't, stopped me from making bad decisions."

As you can see, there's room for improvement on this part of my essay as well. The first thing I'm going to make a note to change is to add something here, something to make it clear what I mean by a risk-taking male. And the other big change I think I need to make is here in the middle of the paragraph.

I like this section. It's kind of a cool way to start exploring a slightly different topic of recovering from injuries, but after reading this draft through again, it's obvious to me now that this is not supporting my thesis at all. It's a related topic, but nothing more.

So no matter how much I might like it, it's got no reason to be here. I think I'm also going to remove this sentence, too, since it doesn't seem to be supporting the paragraph's main idea. If anything, it's repeating it without adding anything new, so it's out, too.

And finally, I want to change or add something to the very ending. I'm always hesitant to end an essay with such a broad term as "bad decisions." I'd be better off, considering the subject matter, to have a more concrete detail and to use it to imply the ongoing nature of the self-doubt, self-evaluation, and self-rehabilitation I'm going through. So I'll make a note of that, too.

And now here's a revised version of the paragraph. I won't have time to read it through, but if you like, pause the video and look through it and decide for yourself whether you think this paragraph is now fulfilling the many roles of a conclusion better than it used to be.

So what did we learn today? We learned about revising with an eye for details, and we took a look at a couple pieces of an essay before and after a detailed revision. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.