Ask Students to Revise

Revision asks students to rework and/or expand on what they have drafted to help them master the subject matter, articulate their ideas more clearly, and develop more sophisticated lines of argument.

If your students already took Expos, they have seen firsthand how much their writing can improve when they devote significant time and effort to revising their initial drafts. Veterans of Expos have been taught that revision is a tool they can use to become critical readers of their own writing.

The lesson is built into the very structure of the course. Preceptors require students to submit revisions of each of their three major assignments. For each draft, preceptors give students extensive written and oral feedback that centers on helping student authors move from producing the interior monologues that drafts typically are for all writers (we first write in effect to ourselves as we figure out what we are thinking) to writing mindfully for readers to make sure they understand what we think.

Students emerging from Expos should know the difference between small-scale “local,” merely cosmetic revisions and large-scale “global,” deep revisions, and they should understand the value of the latter, and the importance of making the latter before attending to the former.

The benefits of revising drafts with guidance from an instructor are many. Students will

    • more carefully consider the needs of their intended audience


    • articulate more nuanced and precise claims


    • articulate their own unstated assumptions and elaborate on their analysis so that readers can better understand their claims


    • discover where their arguments lack evidence to support their claims.


    • craft more logical and better organized arguments. When students are asked, for example, to create outlines of the drafts they have already written, they can more readily see where transitions are unclear, ideas are out of order, or key information is lacking.


    • see where they need to address key counterarguments.


    • come to better understand the course materials about which they are writing since revising will compel them to clarify their thinking about the concepts, terms, arguments, claims, and evidence they encounter in the sources they read.


Revision can be incorporated into your courses in a variety of ways that are not excessively time consuming. Given time constraints and other priorities in the course, you won’t be able to devote as much time as Expos does to the teaching of revision strategies . It’s also likely that unless you require students to do so, most will not make the time to engage in serious revision. Yet despite these constraints, there are several ways you can incorporate revision in order to improve the effectiveness of writing assignments in helping achieve course goals.





Techniques for Incorporating Revision

Providing Individualized Instructor Feedback

If possible, ask your students to submit drafts, and provide them with written feedback on those drafts. By building draft and revision stages into your course and giving students comments on drafts and revisions, you can help your students see the benefits of revising their work.

“Reverse” Outlining

Have students write outlines of their essays after they have already written a draft. Doing so enables them to perceive the structure of their essays more clearly, looking for a logical progression, clear transitions, and places where they may need more evidence.

Download an exercise on reverse outlining as a Microsoft Word document. 

Building on Earlier Writing Assignments

Asking students to incorporate shorter, informal response papers in a longer piece of writing enables them to revise and build on earlier work for a final project. This type of exercise assists students in make connections among a variety of course readings, lectures, and discussions.

Download an exercise on building on earlier assignments as a Microsoft Word document.

Revision as a Final Project

Ask students to revise and perhaps expand an essay they wrote earlier in the course for a final project. This assignment requires them to focus on many of the issues detailed above and also to reconsider an earlier piece of work in light of subsequent materials they encountered in the course.

Download an exercise on revising as a final project as a Microsoft Word document.

Want Help?

The Harvard Writing Project offers free workshops to all FAS faculty and TFs on proven strategies for responding to student writing.  Contact us.