Revising the Body of Your Essay Study Guide (page 2)

Updated on Oct 1, 2011

How To Revise Your Organizational System

You may not have consciously chosen one of these organizational principles when you planned and wrote your first draft, but it is likely that one or more of them is evident in your essay. (Go back to Lesson 15 to review organizational strategies in detail if you're not sure which one you've used.) At the revision stage, you must evaluate the choice you made by deciding if the organization of your paragraphs is effective and if it was the best choice you could have made.

For example, imagine that you are writing about cats and dogs as pets, and you decided to write about them in a point-by-point, classification way. You wrote about how they both make good pets, both have four feet, both live happily in families of humans, and so on. Now you read over your essay and it feels obvious, flat, and boring. Maybe a different organizational strategy would improve it. What if you decided to write a comparison-contrast essay about the behavior of cats and dogs? You could easily inject some lively humor and a strong point of view (your preference for one or the other) into such an essay, and still fulfill the original assignment to write about cats and dogs as pets. Or perhaps you could reorganize and write a comparison of cats and dogs to gold-fish? Then you could really have fun.

Deciding how to change your organizational principle can be a difficult task. If you feel stuck and can't figure out what to do, carefully inspect the individual paragraphs. Often by analyzing several of your individual paragraphs, and seeing necessary revisions to them, you'll come up with a better idea of how to reorganize the essay as a whole. And sometimes all you'll really need to do is rearrange the order of your paragraphs in order to smooth out its flow.


The organizational principle is the glue that holds the essay together. Make sure your glue is holding tight at all points and that no paragraph has come unstuck and is dangling out on its own somewhere.

Revising Individual Paragraphs

Think of each paragraph as a mini-essay, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Take a good hard look at each paragraph to see if it has the following elements and performs the appropriate functions.

  • Each paragraph should contain one controlling idea. Usually this idea appears in a topic sentence at the beginning or the end of the paragraph. All the additional sentences in the paragraph should relate to this one main idea. If you find sentences that do not relate to the paragraph's main idea, move them out!
  • Each paragraph should develop its controlling idea sufficiently. The topic sentence of your paragraph, even if it comes at the end of your paragraph, requires support. If you find paragraphs of only one or two sentences, you have probably not developed the paragraph's idea in enough detail.
  • Each paragraph should be directly related to the thesis of the entire essay. Too often writers stray from their original outline and write paragraphs on subjects that do not support the thesis statement. If you find a paragraph like this, cross it out!
  • Each paragraph should contribute to the development of the thesis statement. Effective essays create a progression of thoughts that culminate in a strong conclusion. Think of your essay as a rolling snowball: It should get bigger and stronger the further along it goes. If it doesn't, you haven't organized well.
  • Each paragraph follows the previous one with logical transitions. You may need only a word or two to create the transition between paragraphs, or you may need a sentence or two. Whatever you do, do not rely on trite transitions like in summary, or on the other hand, or in conclusion. Skilled writers can do better than that.
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