This post is part of a series called The Grad Studies Notebook, where I try to share what I learn from my grad classes in the hopes that you might find them useful and empowering like I do.
Have you been stuck or frustrated with your writing style, or are you looking for ways to hone your writing skills? Have you found yourself going through your archive and cringing at your old posts? Are there days when you have convinced yourself that there is utterly worth saving in your work?
Okay, that got a little too dark, but these are such familiar feelings that plague many writers and content creators. One thing that gets me through the day is the fact that I can still improve what I do, and by building my revising skills, I can take my drafts from chaos to *slightly more polished* pieces.
Though these terms are used interchangeably, evaluating to revise is not the same as editing. This particular step actually occurs before editing, and it is crucial to the revision process.
In evaluation, I act like a doctor to my work. I diagnose the problems present in my draft, prescribe solutions, and help it achieve a healthier state. My doctor sense is honed by studying standards of what is strong and weak writing and by years of actively examining my personal preferences. Though there are standard operating procedures (heh) set for each condition or genre, each case or post will always be unique. Hence, instead of sticking to a rigid set of rules for editing, it is much more important to develop your decision-making skills.
It is a skill that needs to be trained and practiced, but it isn’t so intimidating if you take the extra time to do the groundwork, keep references, and be familiar with your personal preferences. If you are freaking out about the lack of a critical eye towards your own work, here are some practical steps to help you get started!
1. Gather exemplars of writing styles you like and dislike
In the original lesson plan model proposed in the book, this is actually part of the first step (planning). The teacher presents carefully selected examples of strong and weak writing while introducing the conventions–elements, required information, and expectations–of the genre that you need to write. Since we don’t have one person selecting the material for us, it falls on our shoulders to gather our own.
Here are some blog posts that I personally love and use as references for style and content:
- For Primitivo Romero: Epitaph for an Epitaph by Ena @ Fly(er) on the Wall
- Review: The Death of Vivek Oji by Jiyoon @ Insomniac Reviews
- The Unbroken by CL Clark by Kate @ YourTitaKate
When choosing references, you can use the following guide questions:
- Do I like this post? Do I feel engaged while reading it?
- Answer this from the point of view of an ordinary reader. If it’s a work that you love to revisit or that you find particularly insightful, then save it.
- Is it written for a similar target audience and by someone with a similar setup?
- I know it’s great to learned from published authors and journalists, but I also have to be realistic about what I can achieve for now.
- Does the vibe, content, or style jive with my personality? Do I see myself writing a similar piece?
- It’s hard to pretend to be someone you’re not, and there are no strict rules in how things should be written. Most of published works that teach people how to write are based on what the author finds pleasing.
Once you find your references, don’t forget to leave a nice comment on their posts! They will surely appreciate your feedback 💖
I like keeping only around 2-3 at a time–yes, my list always changes because of new content and of my shifting taste–because any more makes me feel like I can’t ever measure up. I have to manage my expectations so that impostor syndrome doesn’t rule the day.
For “weak” writing, it kind of feels mean to label a post as “bad” especially if you know that the content creator has worked so hard on it. What I do instead is to list the patterns that I dislike. It can be phrases, focus of interest, or “bland” takes. Anything that rubs me off the wrong way goes into the list, but I make sure that I don’t take note of the title, name, and blog site so as not to taint my feedback on their other work.
2. Think out loud and record your thoughts
While reading your references, narrate everything you think and write everything down. You can use the following prompts to help you out:
- What does this post make me feel?
- Is it easy to follow the ideas?
- Which parts are my favorite? Which parts do I not really like?
- If I were to summarize this in 2-3 sentences, how would that go?
- What is new about this post? [Personally, I love it when a post makes me ask a lot of good questions)
While reading your samples for weak writing, you can use these additional prompts:
- Why does this bother me?
- Is it confusing or unclear? Unbacked by evidence from the books?
- Is it a matter of problematic opinions? [This is a more complicated topic that would need more discussion]
- What could be done to make it stronger?
3. Develop your own criteria for evaluating your work
Go over your think-aloud notes, and find patterns in your notes. You are probably aware of what you like in broad strokes, but documenting everything might surprise you and reveal what you subconsciously look for in other posts.
- Which parts do I prioritize seeing in a review?
- Which parts or elements do I enjoy reading?
- Which parts make me disengage with the text?
- Which parts can I do without?
Based on what you find important, make a rough criteria or list of aspects that you can use to edit your work. You can add scores or percentages, but as someone who has regularly worked with grading rubrics, I don’t really like seeing one in my hobbies hahahaha. Here’s what I like in a book review:
|long, flowing sentences – I hate short, choppy ones because together, they sound so robotic||notes on narrative structure – How does the author effectively build the story? Any interesting character arcs?|
|a nice, personal intro||themes – Don’t just mention the theme! Mention how it was done|
|proper transitions (paragraphs, signal words, etc.)||characters – I don’t care if they’re relatable or not, as long as they feel real to me and are treated well. I really dislike reviews that judge characters solely on relatability.|
If you’re just starting out, it’s best to keep things simple. I keep mine down to its bare bones, so I don’t create more expectations for myself. Remember, it’s supposed to be a reference to help us be better by making us more aware of our personal preferences. Your taste can also change, so give yourself more slack and periodically review your criteria.
4. Note your areas of improvement
Now go back to the draft you’ve written. With your prepared criteria in hand, go over your draft to check for each element. You can use the following guide questions to help you out:
- Is this aspect present in my draft? Is it not there? Could it be better?
- Is there anything I need to add or delete?
- Are the paragraphs that have to be moved around to make the flow better?
- How can I rewrite this part to make it stronger?
- Do I like reading my work?
Once you’ve diagnosed its specific problems, it’s easier to come up with solutions. Need help with transitions? Lack of information to support your ideas? Being more specific with your needs can help direct you to specific resources that can really make an impact on your work.
- Compliment yourself! You are doing a great job by pushing yourself to study and be better at what you do. Many bloggers create content for free, and I’d rather that we create based on what we like and think deserves space on our platforms.
- Evaluate and refer to your rubric after writing the initial draft. The first draft is supposed to be messy and all over the place. It’s supposed to hold our ideas in their rawest forms! By restricting ourselves to the conventions of what “should” be there before we even start writing, we limit our creative freedom and feel pressured to do things “correctly”.
- Whenever I feel the pressure to over-study my drafts, I publish them anyway! I love the edit and update functions of WordPress, and I can go over my published posts and tweak them if needed. Sometimes when I keep stressing out over the formatting and layout, I go ahead and publish it!
Hope you find this helpful!
This page of my notebook is for the writing teacher’s manual Developing strategic writers through genre instruction: resources for Grades 3-5 by Zoi A. Philippakos, Charles A. MacArthur, David L. Coker Jr. (2015). Blog content is not mentioned at all in this book, so the guide questions are cobbled together from the units on persuasive writing and compare and contrast essays.
- How do you edit your work? What’s your thought process?
- How did you learn writing in school?
- What elements do you like reading in other people’s work?