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Step 5: There Is No Great Writing
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Words of Wisdom

Words, too, have genuine substance—mass and weight and specific gravity.

— Tim O'Brien

“There is no great writing – only great rewriting.” – Louis Brandeis

Frankly, it is a law of the universe that you cannot know how to improve your paper until you’ve written and reviewed it (in that order).  It’s easiest to improve one thing at a time in your paper, and I suggest using the top-down approach, starting with nefarious organization issues and slowly working your way to the lowly grammar mistakes. Below are three three-step processes (yes, read that again – each process has three steps, and there are three of them) to check organization, coherence, and grammar by diagnosing, analyzing, and revising. Follow the steps.


When you find ideas that don’t follow a logical order, ask yourself questions about why the order doesn’t make sense: The answers to these questions will guide you to rewriting or, in this case, reorganizing certain parts of your paper.


You cannot correct your own mistakes unless you become familiar with functional rules of grammar, punctuation, and spelling. We’ve made this very easy on you – there are plenty of resources on this website dealing with grammar or punctuation.

If the answers to the above questions were troubling, don’t be discouraged; revision is not complete until the final step.

  1. Diagnose
    • Read through your paper, paying attention to the organization.
    • Make sure that you present your ideas in a logical manner.
    • If information in your paper seems out of order to you, remember your reader will be even more confused.
  2. Analyze
    • Is there a clear progression of thought from the beginning to the middle to the end of the paper?
    • Does each paragraph in my paper respond to the prompt?
    • Do my paragraphs have more than one main idea? If so, does that mean I need to break up the paragraph into two?
    • Are terms in the paper defined before the terms are discussed?
  3. Rewrite
    • Move your paragraphs or ideas around so that they follow the order described in the questions.
    • Make sure there is a clear beginning, middle, and end to your argument. Be sure to define terms before you discuss their effects in the paper. Make sure that each paragraph has one main idea.


When your sentences don’t make sense ask yourself questions about why the ideas aren’t being conveyed. The answers to these questions will guide you in rewriting certain sentences in your paper.

Example: ” Much with the never halting march of mankind, as civilization continued its inevitable revolutionizing of formerly steadfast views of what constituted the ideologies surrounding the concept of imagined communities, its malleable nature gave way to transmutations of something more; the aftermath for which resulted in the distinct separation of these works which constituted the pre-modern, the early modern, and the modern.”  …Erm, what?

  1. Diagnose
    • Read through your paper, focusing on coherence and cohesion.
    • Make sure that you can understand the meaning of each paragraph as a whole and that each sentence conveys a main idea.
    • Find sentences and ideas that don’t make sense. If the ideas in your sentences don’t make sense to you, they aren’t going to make sense to anyone.
  2. Analyze
    • What is the main idea I want to portray in the sentence? Is that the idea that is actually coming across?
    • Who/what is the main character of the sentence? Is it the subject of the sentence?
    • What is the main action in the sentence? In other words, what is the character doing? Is this the main verb of the sentence?
    • Does each sentence in my paragraph relate to the topic sentence?
    • Are any of my ideas repetitive? Do I need to remove them?
  3. Rewrite
    • If the answers to the above questions were troubling, don’t be discouraged; revision is not complete until the final step.
    • When most of your sentences match characters to subjects and actions with verbs, readers are likely to think your prose is clear, direct, and readable.
    • Be sure that you know what you want to say before you try to say it. The reason most sentences are unclear is because the author is unsure of what they wanted to say in the first place. If a sentence doesn’t make sense, and you can’t figure out why you put it in your paper, just take it out. Don’t leave it for the sake of length.
    • Similarly, avoid repetitiveness within sentences. If a sentence is repetitive, either rewrite it adding new information or analysis or take it out. Sometimes you can make your sentences clearer by getting rid of extraneous prepositional phrases. Sometimes those phrases can be omitted, and sometimes you can make the phrase into a one-word adjective. Take a look at the painfully long and convoluted sentence above. Could you make that sentence more coherent just by getting rid of unnecessary phrases?


Spelling mistakes can be embarrassing: “Frederick Douglass coped with his anguish by hopping.”

  1. Diagnose
    • Read through your paper, looking for grammar, punctuation, or spelling errors.
    • It is most helpful if you focus on only one of these issues at a time. This lends to reading the paper a few times but will be most effective in revising.
    • Reading your paper aloud to yourself is one of the best ways to catch your own mistakes.
    • Circle or underline the mistakes you find in your paper.
  2. Analyze
    • If you are having a lot of trouble with commas, turn to the Quick Comma Reference page on our website. Here you will find a concise description of the most common comma errors.
    • If spelling is your problem, pull out a dictionary or turn to an online source, such as dictionary.com, to correct your mistakes.
    • Don’t be afraid to use outside sources to help you with your grammar!
    • Make sure you choose your words carefully: “Steinbeck always wrote with a porpoise.”
  3. Rewrite
    • Make the corrections and then read the paper aloud once last time. Listen to how it sounds and get rid of repetition and wordiness.
    • Don't be afraid to rewrite if things seem out of order, clunky, or unclear, too. This is your chance to make it better. Go for the flow.

That’s it. You’re done!

I hope you found this guide to be helpful. We here at the University Writing Center understand that essays can be daunting, but just remember, don’t panic and follow the steps.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute The University Writing Center, Texas A&M University.

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