Helpful feedback is important to understanding if we’re meeting a goal and what we can do better to reach it. Once we have helpful feedback, however, we have to act on it to improve.
This module explains Rethinking and Revising when learning to be a better writer. It demonstrates how time, skill, and a growth mindset help us become better at revision.
Revision is “re-seeing” the ways you think about your draft, about its rhetorical problem, about its audiences, and maybe about yourself as its writer. It takes time, skill, and a growth mindset to revise.
As Okemos High School teacher Dawn Reed describes in this video, revision goes beyond correcting errors and fixing punctuation. That’s actually called copyediting or sentence-level editing. Revision is more global. It tackles the big elements of the rhetorical problem:
So, revision is about imagining how the draft—the one you finished in a rush or after hours of labor—could be radically different. The trick is being calm about those changes, which is why it helps to have time, skill, and courage.
Time spent revising is time invested in learning. The decisions you make during revision help you learn to be more aware of what is effective in your rhetorical situation: you’ll think through which strategies are best for reaching your audience, accomplishing your purpose, and conveying your message. By taking time to consider your options, you’ll improve your chances of making strong revisions.
Recall the writing assignment timeline from The Importance of Feedback, the one that suggested revision was just as important as writing. That revision activity has lots of important work happening.
In those windows of time they're given to revise, the writers who revise most effectively will take the time to:
If the deadline for a revision is just a few hours away, take a few minutes to work through these moves before you start work on the new version. Investing as little as 10 minutes in planning can make a big difference in what you revise.
If the deadline is a few days away, you can engage in the revision moves in greater depth. Some writers need to step away from a draft for a while before they’re ready to revise. Take a break so that you can look with fresh eyes at your work. Devote a block of time to reading, selecting, and prioritizing feedback and reflect on what changes you might make to meet your goals and then start rewriting.
Revision isn’t just the changes we make to a draft. Revision is also the process by which we plan and execute those changes. In Part 3, we’ll look at these revision skills that can be practiced and learned that will help you be a better writer.
As the timeline of revision above shows, revision skills include reading, selecting, prioritizing, and reflecting.
Revising well begins with reading feedback with an open-mind. Try to understand what each reviewer was trying to say.
You might not agree with them, and reviewers might not agree with each other. This is normal. Writers often get feedback from experts that is contradictory. As a writer, this feedback helps you adjust your work so that it acknowledges those different viewpoints in your audience.
Once you’ve read each comment, you’re ready to make some choices.
The student chooses specific feedback to use.
The student orders feedback from most important to least important.
The student reflects on feedback and revises.
The Importance of Feedback described a number of the qualities that make feedback helpful. Keep those in mind as you assess the feedback you’ve received. Ask of each comment:
Pay close attention to those comments that help you revise.
When working in Eli Review, writers can also rate each comment using a 5-star helpfulness scale:
Rate each comment on a scale of 1-5 based on how well it meets our helpfulness criteria: remember that a helpful comment clearly names what the writer has done, is specific with regard to the goals of the writing, speaks to quality of the writing, and is respectful in tone.
- The comment exhibits none of the helpfulness criteria.
- The comment exhibits few of the helpfulness criteria.
- The comment exhibits some of the helpfulness criteria.
- The comment exhibits most of the helpfulness criteria.
- The comment exhibits all of the helpfulness criteria.
Your helpfulness ratings in Eli will let your peers and instructor(s) know if you are getting the kinds of comments you need to revise.
These quick judgments will also help you decide which feedback will influence your revision. In Eli, choose “add to revision plan” in order to be able to access that comment in the next phase.
After reading all the feedback (and perhaps rating its helpfulness) and grouping the feedback you want to use to guide your revision, you need to figure out which suggestions are most important. Ask yourself these questions:
In Eli, go to your revision plan. Drag and drop the comments into the order that makes sense to you.
A revision plan is a place to write briefly about what you hope to accomplish in the next version of your draft. This reflective writing helps you connect your goals with specific actions. It makes you conscious of your process and deliberate in your decision-making. Research in cognitive processes by Bereiter and Scarmadelia as well as on knowledge transfer summarized by Moore show that being aware of what you are doing and why will help you make better choices now and later.
In Eli, you can build a revision plan for any writing task. Your instructor might also require you to submit a revision plan. If your instructor is planning to comment on it, your revision plan is a good place to show your thinking so that your instructor can affirm or redirect your goals before you start making changes.
The revision plan shown above indicates priorities. For each comment added to your revision plan, you can also add a note that explains how you will follow that suggestion.
You can also add an overarching note that explains your goals. This reflective note is a good place to answer these questions:
A revision plan does not have to be in paragraph form. A list might be sufficient. Whatever form you choose, make sure to write down as much as you can, especially if you’re not going to revise for a day or two (which is often wise).
Connecting your goals with specific actions in this plan will help your revision go more quickly and will help you make wise decisions later on future writing projects.
Having a good plan for revision can empower you to make changes to your draft. Knowing what needs to be done is certainly a large part of getting it done. Another part of getting it done is feeling like revising.
Getting feedback and planning to use it can be an emotional rollercoaster. You might feel:
These emotions, including the negative ones, can help you revise if you have what Stanford University Professor of Psychology Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset” rather than a “fixed mindset.” Dweck explains the terms she’s coined in her TedTalk, and her website offers this elaboration:
Mindsets frame the running account that’s taking place in people’s heads. They guide the whole interpretation process. The fixed mindset creates an internal monologue that is focused on judging: “This means I’m a loser.” “This means I’m a better person than they are.” . . . .
People with a growth mindset are also constantly monitoring what’s going on, but their internal monologue is not about judging themselves and others in this way. Certainly they’re sensitive to positive and negative information, but they’re attuned to its implications for learning and constructive action: What can I learn from this? How can I improve? How can I help my partner do this better? (Mindset.org)
Google certified French teacher Sylvia Duckworth created a poster that shows 10 statements in the the fixed versus growth mindset:
These statements emphasized that, just as it is important to give constructive feedback, you have to receive feedback as constructive too. Learn as much as you can from comments that make you feel validated, disappointed, confused, annoyed, and even unmotivated.
A growth mindset takes grit too. In her TedTalk, University of Pennsylvania Associate Professor of Psychology Angela Lee Duckworth explains how grit contributes to success. In an interview with Perkins-Gough, Duckworth says, “Grit is not just having resilience in the face of failure, but also having deep commitments that you remain loyal to over many years.”
Becoming a better writer takes both the willingness to try again right now and a long-term commitment to hone your skills.
When you see how to shift your argument or reorganize your main points or change your logic, and recognize those as learning opportunities—not moments of defeat—you’re developing a gritty growth mindset.
These learning opportunities will help you get better as a writer because of the time you’ve invested in deliberately practicing reading, selecting, prioritizing, and reflecting on feedback. Choose a growth mindset so you can revise, so you can learn.
Interested in the research discussed in this module? See the instructor versions.
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