Even more revision!

Welcome to part two of my How to Revise series! Last week’s post, 2.11: How to Revise (part 1), taught you how to tailor a revision plan specific to who is evaluating your revision and based on what they (and you!) value. I also discussed the difference between drafts, encouraging you to focus your revision plan on changes appropriate to the stage you’re currently at and the one you’d like to get to via revision.

Part two of the series shows you how to do the “on the ground” revision work that will help you follow through on your plan. In what follows, I’ll teach you how to track observable progress and acheive your goals systematically with as little stress as possible. You can do it, tenderhearts!

Observable Progress

The revision process can make us feel hopeless if when approach it without a method in mind. Tracking your progress on achievable goals will help you feel more confident by providing you with guidelines. In turn, these guidelines enable you to experience small wins along the way.

Your goals for your revision will be based on what you wrote in your revision plan (see post 2.11). Depending on the draft you’re on, your goals might range from “strengthen thesis” to “add two pages” to “remediate into a 12-15 minute presentation.” For our purposes here, I’ll show you how to break down the revision process when you’re working with feedback. It may be from your evaluator or a tutor, but it may also be comments you wrote for yourself, or even guidelines or assignment sheets.


Break It Into Steps

When you get a draft back from an evaluator with lots of comments, it can sometimes feel overwhelming or disheartening. I sometimes still feel bummed or disappointed when I receive tons of suggestions for revision, wondering how the hell I will ever address all of the comments. Thankfully, I’ve developed a three step process that makes the revision process more enjoyable by separating it into steps.


Step 1

When you first receive a draft back with feedback, do not immediately dive into editing. Instead, reread your paper, read through the comments, and then let mull the suggestions around in your mind to get a general feel for them. You may want to respond with an emotion of despair or confusion, particularly if you put a lot of effort into your draft and it feels like your evaluator is only critiquing and not complimenting you. Feel your feelings, and then read the comments in relation to one another to identify patterns and get a lay of the land for what your evaluator is asking you to do in your revision.


A side note on how to handle unhelpful feedback

There’s a term we use in academia to refer to an evaluator who provides unhelpfully inconsiderate comments when reviewing journal articles for peer review: Reviewer 2. You can read examples of unhelpful or rude feedback people have received on the tumblr page “Shit My Reviewers Say.”

While most of your feedback will probably be genuinely helpful, some reviewers and evaluators will provide comments that range from missing the mark to being naive to being racist, homophobic, sexist, classist, and/or otherwise bigoted. In the case of a comment that misses the mark or feels unhelpful to your particular goals, I encourage you to check out the section “A note on what to do when your expectations do not line up with your evaluator’s” in post 2.11. In the case of receiving feedback that feels discriminatory or offensive, I encourage you to share comments with a trusted friend or colleague or advisor who will support you in brainstorming and making a decision on how to proceed.


Step 2

Time to start responding to the comments. When you’re revising your draft using comments, you should view them as many small tasks rather than one large task. Instead of saying “Ugh, 30 comments on a 10 page draft?!,” try to perceive the revision as 30 small problems to tackle. You can choose how to approach your many small tasks, either working for a set time or aiming to revise a set number of comments during a work session.

When I get to this stage, I print out the paper and write by hand on the printed draft what I would like to type up as my revisions (but don’t type yet!). While I’m writing, I try my damndest not to get sidetracked, so if I run into a comment that feels too complicated or time consuming, I highlight it with another color pen so I will remember to return to it once I’ve worked my way through the other comments.


Step 3

It’s time to get back on your computer. This should go without saying, but before you start editing, create and save a new version of your document so you don’t accidentally lose your last draft. I like to save documents as a combination of my last name, the project I’m working on, and the version number and/or date, so something like “Litterer_DissertationChapter2_v1_3-17-19.”

I work through my draft, typing in my hand written comments from my draft and editing them as needed. If I drew a big X over a paragraph on the printed draft, I cut it. If I circled a sentence and drew an arrow to move it to another page, I do so. When I complete a comment, I check it off on my printout with a particular color. If I skip a comment when I’m editing, I circle it on the print draft it with another color, so I will easily identify it as outstanding.



The two takeaway tools below will assist you in staying on track throughout your revision process. Their purpose is to help you focus on the draft you’re currently revising, with an awareness of how it will develop in later revisions and in a final product.

Easy Win Side Tasks

As you’re working through your comments in Step 2, you will likely notice things you need to research or confirm, such as dates, quotes, or citations. Write a list of these tasks to do later, when you need a break from generating intellectual content and want the easy win of searching a term in an index or Googling a date or rereading a chapter. I often write them on the first page of the printout at the top, but you could do this digitally or on a post-it. 

Incorporate Next Step Plans

If you know that you will need to do at least one more revision before you submit your final draft of your paper, I suggest that you write directions and notes for yourself about what you plan to do in your next revision. You can literally write these within the text of your draft or with a comment function. The purpose in writing directions for next steps is to help you reach a stopping place for your revision, particularly if you’re approaching a deadline or if you feel burnt out. Instead of beating yourself up for not having the time, energy, or focus to complete a particular thing you need more time, energy, or focus to complete, write a note and come back to it later as a separate task.

I usually write these asides directly in the text of the paper in all caps, starting with “To Do,” in brackets, and highlighted yellow, so there’s no way myself or my evaluator will miss them. Because I put my notes-to-self in brackets, I only have to search for CTRL+F for [ to bounce from one to the next.

If your evaluator is okay with it (and in my experience every evaluator of a draft has been, and actually appreciates seeing your full thought process), you can leave these comments in when you submit the draft for their next comments. Just be sure to tell them that you’ve done so, and let them know how and when you plan to address your own directions.

Here are some examples of things I have written in notes-to-self/evaluator when I submitted revised drafts:

  • Add citation from interview
  • Need to contextualize this with time/location
  • This is something that feminist historiographers have attempted to critique—Provide examples?
  • Expand this argument


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