The Many and Varied Cycles of Revision

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Brainstorming by Kevin Dooley on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 licenseI have been lucky since I have been teaching professional writing courses: students typically come to the course with knowledge of how writing works. They already know that there is information gathering and research at the beginning. They understand that there is revision and proofreading work for their drafts, though they sometimes focus more on small editorial changes rather than substantive revision.

Since I am using a labor-based assessment system (Inoue, 2014), I ask students to continue working on their projects until they reach the level that would be used in the workplace. I have told them, “If it’s not ready to send out in the workplace, it’s not finished for the purposes of our class.”

Relying on the grading options in Canvas (our LMS), I assigned the pieces either a Complete (when they were done) or an Incomplete (when they were not). The system worked well during submission and the first round of revision and resubmission. When I returned some of the resubmitted drafts still earning an Incomplete however, individual students began emailing me with questions. Apparently I blew students’ minds with my belief that more than one round of revision is sometimes needed.

That confusion about revision showed me that students don’t really understand the revision process at all. Despite all their experience in summer jobs, internships and work-study positions, most of the class had not encountered the multiple rounds of revision and rewriting that a document can go through in the workplace (or, apparently, in college courses).

As a result of this realization, I am adding some resources and discussion of revision in the workplace early in the course schedule. My first thought was to write a narrative explanation of revision, using a kind of case study that reports my own experience in the workplace. I worried, though, that they might only skim the piece and not change their understanding of revision in any concrete ways. I have had a good bit of success with videos in the course, but so close to the beginning of the fall term, I don’t have time to produce a video with subtitles and a transcript.

I think an infographic will provide the information quickly and efficiently. By simply following the rounds of revision in a visual representation, students will be able to see that one round of revision is the exception. Several rounds are far more likely. I’m not sure if I’ll use a flowchart, timeline, or journey-style map, but once I develop my new resource, I will share it with all of you. In the meantime, what do you do to help students understand the many and varied cycles of revision? Do you have useful resources you can share? Please add a comment below to let me know.


Credit: Brainstorming by Kevin Dooley on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license

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About the Author
Traci Gardner, known as "tengrrl" on most networks, writes lesson plans, classroom resources, and professional development materials for English language arts and college composition teachers. She is the author of Designing Writing Assignments, a contributing editor to the NCTE INBOX Blog, and the editor of Engaging Media-Savvy Students Topical Resource Kit.