Writing School Papers: Does Your First Version Say It All?

09 January, 2015

This is the VOA Learning English Education Report.

You have written your research paper, your personal essay, your book review – whatever your college class requires. You have provided good information in the needed number of words. You feel good because your work is finished.

But is it really done? Many teachers and professional writers believe that writing is revision. In other words, writing well means making needed changes and rewriting.

Writing School Papers: Does Your First Version Say It All?
Students at the University of Texas-Southmost College work on a writing assignment in an English as a Second Language class in 2006

Michael Arnzen teaches English and heads humanities studies at Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania. Mr. Arnzen is also an award-winning author. He says he understands the desire to write something and be done with it.

"We've all been there. We feel we've done (something) good enough, and can't we move on with our lives?"

But he believes revision of writing is a necessary skill for college. He says the classroom is a good place to practice patience, concentration and listening.

"There are rewards with spending time with your thoughts and really taking time to compose your ideas in a coherent way."

Mr. Arnzen says you should put away your paper after you have written a first version, or draft. Wait several hours, maybe overnight, before working on it more. He compares this to returning to a job after a vacation.

"Not only are you refreshed, but you're looking at things through different eyes. That's what revision literally means – to see again through different eyes.So putting something in a drawer for a day, sleeping on it for a night – that always seems to help."

Mr. Arnzen's students follow a four-step process with their papers. Students read and listen to each other's work, share thoughts and make suggestions.

The first step in the process is invention. It includes forming many questions about their subject. The professor calls it "question-storming."

In a second step, students draft and compose a paper.

Then comes the revision period. At that time, Professor Arnzen says students take another look at what they have done.

"You take the time to read what you've written, to think about it, and maybe to re-shape it based on what you see now, as a kind of new person looking at it with a reader's eyeglasses rather than a writer's."

He calls the fourth step "publication." He does not mean this to be professional publication.

"To me, anytime you turn over your writing to another person, that's publication. You're going public with it."

Mr. Arnzen says the process takes away some of the tension of writing. He says worry about the quality of your writing often disappears when you share that writing.

He says the goal of writing a college paper is not to perform for a teacher or to produce a perfect piece. He says perfect writing is not possible. He says what is most important is getting your thoughts and ideas on paper.

And that's the VOA Learning English Education Report for today. I'm Jeri Watson.


Words in This Story

patiencen. the ability to wait for a long time without becoming annoyed or upset

concentrationn. the ability to give your attention to a single thought or activity

compose - n. to create and write a piece of music or writing

coherentadj. logical and well organized; easy to understand

submit v. to give a document, proposal, piece of writing, etc., to someone, so that it can be considered or approved.