I try to be as bold as I can with school-related essays. From comparing countries to selfish men described by Thomas Hobbes to blaming Columbus’ legacy for institutionalized racism, teachers know me to provide the hottest take I can find and cram it into five standard paragraphs. They also know to tell me off when an argument gets too hard to support or too deep for what a class warrants. School often will provide a system for essay management, building, and editing if a student wants it.
Much of the writing I do outside of school doesn’t have that support. So, I have to learn to think critically about my work and understand the nuances of my writing before I show it to anyone.
Revising an essay is one of the grueling parts of being a writer—even worse than editing. It means dissecting your carefully constructed argument to each tip and end, expanding relevant information, and (as I am hard-pressed to do) getting rid of parts that don’t work. I color-code for evidence and try to separate every piece of evidence and the way it’s framed. With hyperlinks, which many journalists use, the piece you link to is important as well.
With the assumption that you based your argument on a measurable amount of research, there is still the complete possibility that it may have to be tweaked. Sometimes it might come on too strong—like if my Columbus essay blamed his mistreating Native Americans for every racial problem in America. Sometimes it may not be enough—a problem I saw with my transphobia essay where I tried so hard to write fairly about supporters of the bills, I lost the conclusion I’d wanted.
This is where structure comes in. Using the inverted pyramid for articles makes it easier to find the issues. If the topic sentence (the beginning of an article) doesn’t fit right, it can be modified to fit the evidence you’re presenting, or you’d have to change the evidence itself for a steadfast answer or view.
For a recent article on America’s transphobic laws, I linked conservative articles showing support, but since my argument was that they were overall harmful, I had to take care to make sure I addressed the contents of the full articles. With my color system, I’d leave comments or highlight the link and any part related to said link the same color to make sure it was all necessary and all there.
The actual editing is best after you’ve taken the time to make sure every part of your piece is accurate and makes sense. Editing can involve working for readability, reformatting and moving things around, and focusing on word choice.
Most writers have their bad habits, mine being run-on sentences and alternating between over-explaining and under-explaining. This damages a reader’s reading experience and can be harmful to their interpretation of a piece. This is dangerous in any angled argument. Last year, I wrote a rather long essay, and it came back with praise for the argument and comments on the mechanics, which helped me realize that a teacher would look behind vague phrasing or restating something, but a reader would not.
The inverted pyramid can come back here if you haven’t already decided what information is most important to your topic. Most of the time, though, this stage is editing evidence and reasoning. You can move sentences and information for flow so that there isn’t any disconnect between your original argument and the rest of your piece.
I mention word choice specifically because it can hold significance in heavier pieces. It is something I try to pay attention to. A while ago, I wrote an essay about The Glass Menagerie in which I casually described a character’s reaction to something as ‘hysterical.’ My teacher was kind enough to educate me on the context of the word and tell me that women in that time diagnosed with ‘hysteria’ would face the consequences of a loaded word. This got me thinking about words and how it’s a writer’s responsibility to understand every word they put on a page as much as they can.
Revising and editing are major parts of the writing process, especially with arguments where you’re trying to be persuasive. Writing is one of the best ways to put your opinions out there and educate others. Your voice is always necessary, so it’s important to express it well.
is a high school student in New Jersey. She likes (in no particular order) books, music, science, history, running, and (of course) writing and is always up to learn something new! Find her on Instagram at @writing_stoot.