Are You a Student or a Writer?

Nancy Sommers, a Harvard professor, did a study that tracked students and writers considered more advanced through their revision process. While reading this article for class, I fixated on a few specific items that I think could be useful to writers everywhere.

Sommers’s article focuses on the differences between student and more advanced writers on the topic of revision. What I found most interesting about Sommers’s take on the issue with student revision is that “it is not that students are unwilling to revise, but rather that they do what they have been taught to do in a consistently narrow and predictable way” (383). She further goes on to state that, “students decide to stop revising when they decide that they have not violated any of the rules for revising. These rules, such as ‘Never begin a sentence with a conjunction’…are lexically cued and rigidly applied” (383). The blame for student writing, it seems, lies more with the way composition is taught to writers rather than with the student for Sommers.

The major difference between experienced writers and student writers is their definition of revision. While students view revision as “rewording their sentences to avoid the lexical repetition” (382), the more experienced writer views rewriting as “a ‘constant process,’ that they feel as if (they) ‘can go on forever’” (384). Furthermore, the experienced writer goes through a process of asking “what does my essay as a whole need for form, balance, rhythm, or communication” and then proceeds in multiple stages of revision to reach their desired outcome (386). I found the differences of these two processes thought provoking and thought about how they applied to my own writing process.

Revision, personally, has never been my favorite part of the writing process – at least, not the student form of revision that stems from the fear of a low grade due to typos and grammatical errors. I’m not bad at grammar and I generally spot typos (although, admittedly, I once wrote something that got auto-corrected into“constipation” instead of “constellation” in a brief paper that made Professor Baker’s morning Spring quarter) but this process, to me, is more of a proofing process than a revision process. When I revise a paper I look at my thesis statement and make sure it is strong. I review my topic sentences and make sure everything ties in and that my paragraphs are developed with ample support and evidence to support my claims. I think of ways of making my ideas stronger or illustrating my point more clearly. I honestly revise in that I reinvent, rethink, reword and rephrase until I am satisfied with what I have accomplished.

I admit that I do not do this process for every assignment I’m given, but I try to do it for important assignments or ones I am especially engaged in because I do truly want to put my best work out there, and that takes more than hitting F7 and doing a spelling and grammar review of a paper. I don’t know if this process is completely aligned with the process of a more advanced writer, but I’d like to think I’ve moved away from the student form of revision a long time ago. I like to think that I walk the middle road, but what about you? Also, what do you think of Sommers’s article? Do you agree or disagree with her assertions that teachers are responsible for student’s ideas on revision?
– Amanda Riggle


  1. Pingback: Putting an End to the Dichotomy of Student and Writer | The Poetics Project

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