You’ve received your draft back from your instructor full of line comments. There seems to be too much advice and, at the same time, too little. What do you do? How do you revise this paper to ensure it meets academic standards?
Interpreting the amount of Commentary
Most instructors provide three to four key areas for students to focus on because pointing out every little spot that can be improved is likely to be overwhelming for an author. So if your commentary seems sparse, it’s merely because your instructor is letting you know what is most important for you to focus on at this time. As you improve and begin writing more complex theses or learning how to find a scholarly secondary source, your instructor will move on to pointing out other areas for you to revise. This means, of course, that you may revise everything your instructor asks you to and still won’t earn an “A” simply because there are other areas that still need improving. (Or you tried your best to revise and, frankly, your thesis still wasn’t that complex. But that’s okay. Learning is a process. It takes time.)
Focusing Your Revision
If your instructor provides a rubric for essays, you can, of course, simply refer to it and focus on revising the parts that will earn you the most points (if getting a high grade and not learning how to best express yourself is your main goal). If there is no rubric provided, you should focus on larger issues like writing a clear and complex thesis statement, providing sufficient and convincing evidence and analysis, using scholarly secondary sources, and structuring your essay in a clear and logical manner. Fixing your grammar is not as important as is making a logical argument.
Using Office Hours
Many students like to go to office hours to have their instructor explain every comment to them. This, however, is not a productive use of time for either you or your instructor. Don’t go to office hours expecting your instructor to reread your essay and to go over every point line by line. Instead arrive prepared with one or two larger issues you would like to focus on such as how to make your argument more complex or how to add analysis to your work.
Your meeting should be about 20 minutes. Don’t write asking for an hour a or a 45 minute meeting as these tend not to be productive and prevent other students from being able to use office hours, too. And don’t arrive early or stay late. If your instructor said they would meet with you from 1:00-1:30, they mean they will meet with you from 1:00-1:30, not 12:45-1:30. Showing up excessively early risks embarrassing you as your instructor will likely remind you they have other commitments and will see you at the agreed upon time. Staying late risks annoying the other students who are waiting for a chance to meet with the instructor, too.
Also make sure you arrive with a copy of your assignment. Your instructor has too many students to remember all your work in detail. If you don’t have a copy of the essay, your meeting won’t be very useful to you.
It’s tempting to run to your email every time you don’t understand a comment or want clarification. But keep in mind that answering ten students’ emails about minor issues such as why “malicious” doesn’t mean what you think it means or where your comma should go can really suck up an instructor’s time. Try asking a friend or peer to explain the comment to you if you don’t understand it or take your paper to the Writing Center so they can see what the instructor wants you to focus on.
If the issue is not a minor one, you probably don’t want to discuss it over email. Either ask for a short meeting with your instructor or take your paper to the Writing Center.
Using Other Resources
Your instructor does not have time to reread every student’s essay multiple times and you shouldn’t ask them to reread yours. It’s not fair to the other students for them to reread yours twice more and they will probably not agree to do it for this reason. If you want someone to keep rereading your essay you should schedule an appointment at your university’s Writing Center.
Also take advantage of your in-class workshops and your peer reviews. Your instructor expects you to be revising with these workshops and additional commentary in mind. They understand that you don’t want to go to the Writing Center or use peer review because you really just want to know what they, the grader, thinks. But, again, your instructor has other commitments and can’t keep rereading your work. If you use your other resources, your grade will likely go up anyway. And you’ll impress your instructor with your resourcefulness.
How an individual handles the revision process says a lot about them. While you do want to take advantage of office hours and let your instructor know you are trying, you also want to present yourself as a mature adult who can handle the revision process without panicking and obsessing over every little detail. If you really want to impress your instructor, you’ll take advantage of your school’s Writing Center. Very few students go out of their way to schedule an outside appointment so the ones who do really stand out. These appointments also tend to be more productive than scheduling five meetings with your instructor as your instructor will not keep rereading your paper in its entirety like the Writing Center tutor will and your instructor will likely keep repeating the same advice they gave you the last four times. More eyes on your work will improve it. Use your outside resources.