Collaborative research conducted by cognitive psychologists and compositionists tells us that when writers revise, we make three moves: (1) we detect that something isn’t right, (2) we diagnose the problem, and (3) we remedy the problem. When instructors cover students’ papers with notes and suggested edits, we are in effect depriving them of an opportunity to use and develop their own revising abilities. When we copyedit students’ writing, we’re the ones doing the work of detecting issues, naming them, and suggesting alterations—precisely the moves we’re hoping that students learn to make for themselves. 

Conducting frequent five-minute revision workshops can provide students in large- and small-format courses with opportunities to build revision skills that they can then apply to their own drafts-in-progress.

Here’s how it works:

  • First, display a brief writing sample that demonstrates a currently relevant writing issue, asking students to read the sample and to detect the problematic writing issue it demonstrates. Note: this is an inductive approach; that is, the instructor asks for student ideas, taking a facilitative rather than didactic stance. Prompting questions include these: “What’s the problem here?” or“ Where are you confused?” (1 minute)
  • Second, when the issue has been described, students are asked to guess at its possible cause, i.e., diagnose why this issue can crop up in our writing (Why do you think this happened?) and to suggest ways to remedy the problem with revisions. As these suggestions are offered, the instructor transcribes them directly onto the example passage using a document camera or tracked changes functions. (3 minutes)
  • Third, students are asked to consider how they might check their own work for possible instantiations of this same writing problem. (1 minute)

This example from Biology has helped students recognize what happens when writers compose paragraphs entirely of content from sources without providing any synthesis or rationale.

Five-Minute Revision Workshop: Biology

The issue of potential impact on species richness under potential climate change conditions has largely been examined in alpine regions (Moel at al. 2008). Furthermore, a paper examined potential outcomes of species richness in Europe (Thriller et al. 2006). However, the boreal forest of North America is also receiving attention in modeling distribution of tree species (McKenney et al. 2007). In addition, vegetation changes were modeled for northern Alaska in relation to climate change conditions (Euskirchen et al. 2009).

  • What's the problem here?
  • What would you recommend?
  • What makes this an easy error to make?
  • How to proof?

This example from Psychology has helped students recognize ways that unnecessary words and passive case can obscure ideas. 

Five-Minute Revision Workshop: Psychology

An examination, which was, primarily, focused upon the number of hours of television watched by, and the frequency of aggressive acts for, each of the 60 children in this study, ultimately revealed a positive, or in other words direct, correlation between the cumulative number of hours of television viewing and cumulative number of instances of aggressive, and at times violet, behavior exhibited by these child-viewers.

  • What's the problem here?
  • What would you recommend?
  • What makes this an easy error to make?
  • How to prove?