Keeping It Together: Tackling Progressively Smaller Parts of the Project

When setting out to revise any project, particularly a long one, deciding where to start can be daunting. Any academic project will have multiple lines of argument that can be challenging to juggle at once. If you start with sentence-level edits, it can quickly become difficult to see the forest for the trees. Stella Klein, a tutor at Goldsmiths, University of London, suggests a helpful sequence in which to approach revisions: begin with a pass through the whole project, then move on to progressively smaller parts of it. Approaching revisions in this sequence may be helpful in clarifying what work different sections need, and how to strengthen connections between sections and the project as a whole.

  1. Read through the entire project once. Make a note of anything that seems excessive, missing, unclear, or otherwise worth changing, either in the margins or on a separate document. Try not to spend too much time or energy at sentence-level problems at this point, unless you catch a glaring error or typo.
  2. Once you’ve reached the end, write down some summary notes. What are your impressions of the project as a whole? Does the argument feel consistent and sufficiently elaborated throughout? Does it effectively communicate what you would like the project to say? Are there threads of the argument that drop out partway through? Does the concluding section complement the introduction?
  3. Now turn to the biggest component part of the project: a chapter if you’re revising a thesis or dissertation, a section if you’re revising an article or term paper. Review each of these components in turn with the same attention to detail regarding argument, but now with the big picture in mind.
  4. Continue reviewing each smaller component—each section, each subsection, each paragraph—in turn, until you’ve arrived at the sentence level. At this point, pay more attention to questions of style and clarity, since these affect your argument the most at the sentence level.
  5. Once you’ve revised each constituent part of the project, read through the whole draft again. Is there anything that still needs work? Has the argument become clearer, more cohesive, and more in line with what you’ve set out to communicate to your reader?
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