HOW DO I REVISE MY ROUGH DRAFT?

9.1 What should I do when I finish my rough draft?
9.2 What should I do about any gaps in my paper that I might have discovered while writing my rough draft?
9.3 How do I revise my paper on the level of expression?
9.4 How do I revise my paper on the level of content? What are the most common mistakes in thinking and argumentation that Greeley students make and how can I avoid them?

9.1 What should I do when I finish my rough draft?

If your Historia schedule permits it, you should try to take a day off from your project. This will allow you to put some distance between you and the essay that you have been immersed in lately. When you come back to your paper, this slight distance will let you see your work in a different light, which may help you edit and revise it, almost as if it were the work of someone else. But don't let too much valuable time slip by; much of the learning in your Historia project will occur during the revision of the rough draft.

9.2 What should I do about any gaps in my paper that I might have discovered while writing my rough draft?

You need to determine whether these sections are truly essential to your essay. If they are not, they may be deleted; if they are, these gaps will have to be filled. This will require you to backtrack and retrace the entire research process in miniature. You will at least need to take a few more note cards from your sources; you may even have to find a new source or two. This material then can be incorporated into your final draft, plugging any holes that you had in your original research.

 

9.3 How do I revise my paper on the level of expression?

9.31 How do I check my organization?

After letting your paper sit for a day or so, go back and try to read it quickly, for the big picture, as if reading it for the first time (or as if reading the work of someone else). Does it hang together and make logical sense? If not, make the necessary modifications in sequencing, either major or minor. Word processing makes this kind of reorganization much easier. The essay should accurately reflect and follow the outline. You may want to write the number and letters of your outline in the margin, to make sure you are following your plan.

9.32 How do I check and improve my spelling?

Spelling always counts—because your written work is not only a reflection of your mind, but also of how hard you are willing to work to achieve technical accuracy. If you apply for a job, your resume may land in the rejected pile due to as little as one misspelled word.

With the time allotted to the Historia paper and the ability to check spelling with a word processor, there is no reason why your paper should not be virtually free from spelling errors. As you know, word processor spell checkers are valuable, but cannot substitute for old-fashioned proof reading because it will not catch a word that is spelled correctly but used incorrectly (e.g., there/their).

Used mindlessly, a computer spell-checker would probably erode your spelling skill, because you would have no incentive to learn. But used properly, a spell checker can really help to improve your spelling by (a) identifying the words that you habitually misspell; and (b) showing you the proper spelling. If you are attentive and make a conscious effort to learn while doing your computer spell-checking, you can make great strides in mastering the spelling of words that consistently give you problems. When you see the proper spelling of a word, try to think of little mnemonic devices to help you remember. Sometimes you can also use your knowledge of other languages and/or the historical derivation of the word to remember how it's spelled.

The following is a reference list a spelling demons that are frequently misspelled in actual Greeley social studies essays:

Frequently Misspelled Words

all right
argument: no "e"
assassination: double the "s" twice
benefit/benefited or benefitted (chiefly British)
bureaucracy: build it around the "eau"
commit, commitment:
committee: double every letter you think might be
conscience: includes "science"
definite; definitely: just spell "definite" and then add "ly"
develop, development: no "e" after the "p"
embarrass, embarrassed:
exaggerate, exaggeration: ex-aggregate (out from the group)
fascist
judgment: no "e"
knowledgeable: add "e" to soften the " 9 if
necessary
occur, occurred, occurring: Latin "currere" (to run)
parallel, paralleled: double "l" forms parallel line
parliament: a place of talking, to parley
privilege, privileged
psychology
receive
relevant; relevance
seize
sovereign, sovereignty: build around "reign"
subtlety, subtly
separate: separate the two "a's" with an "r"
supersede
tendency
unnecessary

Expressions Often Confused 

all together/altogether
everyday/every day
its/it's: its = possessive; it’s=it is
loose/lose
there/their

 

9.33 What are the most common errors in punctuation and grammar, that Greeley students make and how do I avoid them?

Capitalization:

The basics are easy, but many tricky cases arise. one obvious error frequently made by Greeley students not capitalizing the names of countries.

Comma Splice:

Two independent clauses (phrases that have complete subjects and predicates—the equivalent of a sentence) should not be separated by a comma. To fix this mistake, either keep the comma and add a subordinating conjunction; or replace the comma with a semi-colon; or make a complex sentence with a subordinate phrase.

Parenthetical Citation Form Flawed:

Follow the rules of the parenthetical citation form exactly. The basic form is simply the author's last name and page number within the parentheses, with the punctuation for the sentence going after the citation.

WRONG: ... end of sentence. (Smith pg. 41)

RIGHT: ... end of sentence (Smith 41).

Subject-Verb Agreement Flawed:

A verb should agree with its subject in person and number. But things can get a little tricky when it's not exactly clear what the subject is, or whether it is singular or plural.

Pronoun Agreement Flawed:

A pronoun should agree with its antecedent (the thing it is standing in for) in gender, number, and person. The most common mistake in this category is using a plural pronoun ("their") after a singular antecedent.

WRONG: Every historian has their opinion on the causes of World War A.

RIGHT: Every historian has his or her opinion on the causes of World War YT

The examples above highlight another major problem in this area: as of now, the English language does not have a gender-neutral singular personal pronoun. This leads to many awkward him/her, his/her constructions—but at this point it's better to be awkward than to be wrong.

Pronoun References Excessive and/or Unclear:

Avoid the excessive and unclear use of pronouns, which can make your writing vague, confusing, and lifeless.

Number Expression Flawed:

An exasperatingly tricky area, one that really depends on the type and degree of formality of the writing. The basic rule of thumb for formal, non-technical/scientific writing (which is what your Historia essay is): write out whole numbers one through ninety-nine and round numbers above that followed by hundred, thousand, etc. Always write out a number at the beginning of a sentence. Remember, the basic benchmarks are clarity and appropriateness. (For finer points, consult references.)

Percentage Notation Flawed:

In informal writing, it is permissible to indicate percent with the percentage sign (%); however, in more formal writing (such as your Historia essay), you should write it out (45 per cent).

Semi-colon Usage Flawed:

The semi-colon is not just an elegant variation of the comma; nor can it substitute for the colon (:). Understand the proper uses of the semi-colon and use it accordingly.

Verb Tense Flawed and/or Shifting:

It is important that the verb tenses in your essay are consistent and appropriate. Most of your Historia essay will be in the historical past.

Parallel Construction Lacking or Flawed:

Items in a series should be phrased in parallel (similar) grammatical form.

 

9.4 How do I revise my paper on the level of content? What are the most common mistakes in thinking and argumentation that Greeley students make and how can I avoid them?

a. Have I drawn out the full implications of my thesis and have I given my thesis the prominence it deserves?

Sometimes a student's paper has a "stealth thesis"—a thesis that is implied or hinted at, but is not brought to the fore and given the prominence it deserves. Often the thesis hinted at is much more subtle and sophisticated than the one that is officially stated. Re-examine your paper to discover a possible "stealth thesis" that is waiting to be revealed and made into the centerpiece of your essay.

b. Have I supported my generalizations with sufficient factual evidence and logical argument?

An essay that consists almost entirely of relatively unsupported generalizations—no matter how interesting and insightful those generalizations may be—is like a huge castle built of sand. The first wave will wash it all away.

c. Have I avoided "begging the question" (assuming the thing that is supposed to be proved)?

When you "beg the question," you simply take for granted the point that you are supposed to be proving. Of course, it may seem that you are actually "proving" it, but that's only because you have simply assumed it to be true ... and so on, in a circular argument.

d. Have I avoided confusing a statement of position with a reason or justification for that position?

This is the difficulty that lies at the heart of the "begging the question" fallacy. You must understand and make the distinction between the statement of a position, and a reason or argument for holding that position. The position itself is not a reason. It must be supported by independent facts and arguments that lie outside of itself.

e. Have I avoided including extensive expository material that A do not relate meaningfully to my argument?

Facts come alive when they take their place as part of an argument. Long sections of factual material that are not related directly and meaningfully to your thesis are like dead weight, bringing down the intellectual level of your essay. It is very difficult to write an essay that incorporates all of its material in a sustained, unified argument; but that's exactly your goal in your Historia essay.

f. Have I correctly distinguished between causes and effects?

The central focus of historical thinking is the cause-effect relationship. The interplay between them is often complex, with the effects of certain causes serving as causes of other effects. But in the context of the specific events and trends that you are discussing, you must be able to distinguish the event/trend itself from the factors that contributed to it.

Example: The feudal contract in which land was exchanged for a pledge of military service was not a cause of feudalism it was an aspect or characteristic of the phenomenon itself. The chaotic conditions after the barbarian invasions would be one of the causes of the rise of feudalism.

g. Have I avoided confusing mere correlation with causation?

Simply because two events or developments are correlated (occur at the same time) does not mean that one is the cause of the other or vice versa. If this were true, then the most absurd hypotheses could be advanced, which logic textbooks have relished for generations.

This is one of the most common errors in thinking across the different disciplines, but the historical writer must be especially on guard against it. In the physical ("hard") sciences, controlled experiments that isolate causal variables can be performed to nail down cause-and-effect relationships. In history, there is no lab where controlled experiments can be conducted; instead, we offer arguments of varying degrees of logic, persuasiveness, and validity. Although these cannot be measured by a universal, objective, infallible "historiometer," they are still subject to critical scrutiny and standards of proof.

h. Have I avoided overstating my case?

What makes history interesting is the complexity, subtlety, and nuances of the questions. Historical issues often have many facets. Even if you feel your case is a strong one, taking a very extreme position and making exaggerated, hyperbolic claims can weaken your essay. It is unlikely that you can adequately support such exaggerated claims.

i. Have I acknowledged and addressed the best argument(s) of those who might disagree with me?

When you argue in a vacuum, your thesis will probably suffocate. If your historical question is a good one, almost by definition, there must be reasonable dissenting opinions. A good essay acknowledges and defends itself against possible arguments for other points of view. Take what you consider to be the strongest arguments for perspectives other than your own, and see if you can adequately rebut them.

j. Have I addressed possible counter-arguments to my thesis on their merits, avoiding personal attacks on their sources?

An argument cannot be successfully rebutted by smearing the person who express them with broad "ad hominem" attacks (criticisms of the person rather than the arguments). Arguments and evidence must be addressed and evaluated on their merits.

k. Have I avoided setting up a "straw man"?

Although it is advisable to acknowledge and rebut the arguments of the opposition, you should avoid imagining or inventing a supposed opposition just so you can deftly refute their "arguments." Avoid "some say.... it is said..." etc. Exactly who said what, and when? You need this information to make your counter-arguments credible. Do not argue with a phantom that you have set up simply for the purposes of rebuttal, or else you risk becoming a Don Quixote, tilting intellectually at windmills that have been transformed by your imagination into opposing giants.

l. Have I avoided self-contradiction—between my arguments and between any argument and my thesis?

Your position should be logically harmonious with your supporting facts and arguments, and your supporting arguments should not clash logically or rely on conflicting factual evidence. At no point should the critical reader be able to point out: "Well, if this point is true, there is no way this other point could be true."

m. Have I understood the logical limitations of my arguments?

Some positions, by their very nature, are more difficult to prove (or make a persuasive case for) than others. One example is trying to prove a negative. Since you would have to rule out an infinite number of possibilities, it is often impossible to do. This does not mean that every position that relies on an argument that has to take that form, is false, untenable, or unhistorical. Simply be aware that you may not be able to prove your case with mathematical certainty, which is a standard that is rarely applicable in the social sciences in any case. Simply because something cannot be proven to the certitude of a mathematical theorem, does not necessarily make it false. Know the logical boundaries of your arguments.

n. Have I avoided making a complicated subject even more complicated than it needs to be (or probably really is)?

A few years ago, the movie Contact popularized a famous dictum of a medieval English philosopher: in science, the simplest explanation is usually the best. The philosopher was William of Ockham, and his idea has been known as "Ockham's razor." Newton had his own version: "Do not needlessly multiply causes." Now history, since it deals with the thoughts, feelings, and actions of almost unimaginably complicated beings (humans), is an unimaginably complicated subject.

 

Truly, in history, things are not always what they seem. But this is no reason to veer off into ridiculously Byzantine explanations for things, especially in the absence of any credible evidence. Unsubstantiated conspiracy theories are an excellent example of this fallacy of historical explanation. Sometimes the simplest, most common-sense explanation is the best. If you offer a more complex explanation, you must present evidence as to why it should be preferred. History is complicated enough; don't over complicate it needlessly—and without legitimate reason.

 

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