Better Revision: Encouraging Student Writers to See Through the Eyes of the Reader
Journal Legal Writing, Vol. 14, Spring 2008
36 Pages Posted: 3 Jan 2008 Last revised: 9 Dec 2012
This article recommends teaching strategies aimed at helping students employ substantive re-vision techniques. Despite the time and attention legal writing professors devote to the rewrite phase of an assignment, first-year law students traditionally consider the assignment completed when they hand in the first draft. The rewrite, they assume, consists of making superficial changes - polishing grammar, refining word choice, and improving sentence structure.
Although those tasks factor into the rewrite process, they are relatively incidental. As experienced legal writers know, the objectives of a rewrite are to revise and sharpen the analysis, deepen the sophistication of the reasoning, and communicate these insights in a more accessible way to the reader. But inexperienced or novice writers often lack the ability to substantively revise their own work. That is because to effectively revise a draft, the writer must abandon the traditional linear process of composing, and adopt an integrated recursive approach instead. The key is to let go of the subjective writer-based perspective and to substitute an impartial reader-based view. Only then can writers see the flaws in what they have written.
Drawing from the literature on composition theory at the undergraduate level, the article suggests that most first-year law students treat the writing process as linear and thus never truly review their work from the reader's standpoint. Consequently, they are unable to see areas in their text that need to be omitted, clarified or expanded and instead make mainly superficial edits when they revise. The article explores methods that encourage students to move beyond such word-processing changes so that they produce improved rewrites that meet their readers' needs.
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