Book Review

The Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) Clearinghouse provides many great books for instructors in all content areas and for writers; the vast collection makes it almost unnecessary to attend college.  Editors Alice Horning and Anne Becker have compiled eleven essays on revision and editing in Revision: History, Theory, and Practice. The book covers revision in different areas, from the history of revision to the teaching of revision in ESL programs to revising with word processors, making it an excellent reference for instructors and writers.

Useful Concepts Abound

The contributors of Revision: History, Theory, and Practice provide useful concepts on teaching revision. For example, Alice Horning and Jeanie Robertson’s “Basic writers and Revision” describe traditional definitions of Basic Writers. Citing years of research, Horning and Robertson explain that “too much of the research on BWs [Basic Writers] has focused on errors and problems, treating these writers as disembodied and separated from the contexts from which they come and in which they live and work and write” (52). Instead, scholars and teachers should see how the context of Basic Writer’s language acquisition ties into their writing. By moving away from the students’ errors, teachers can concentrate on how to best help them express their ideas with clarity and precision.

The editors make a strong point: most evaluations of writing focus on grammatical errors and mechanical mistakes; an effective teaching model, as implied by the essay, would be showing how grammatical and mechanical errors effect the expression of a student’s idea. A comma splice, for example, interrupts the flow of sentences; dangling modifiers modify the wrong noun a student may talk about. In other words, the errors teachers identify in an essay are problems because they eliminate the clarity of the paper.

Tie Everything Together

Each essay ties in closely with one another. “Basic Writers and Revision” describes four awarenesses that Professional Writers have that Basic Writers can strive for: metarhetorical, metastrategic and metalinguistic. They also describe four skills: collaboration, genre, text and context, and tools. Horning and Robertson go into detail about what these skills and awarenesses are, but readers can get a deeper understanding of these concepts in Horning’s “Professional Writers and Revision” essay. Then, Stephen Caloone explores the revision process for creative artists in “Creative Writers and Revision”.

The editors present, then, a great juxtaposition between nonfiction and fiction writers. More importantly, the two articles tie history and theory with practical application. But the differences are really fascinating. The “Creative Writers” article delves into what revision meant to writers throughout time. The Romantics considered their works inspired by a Muse, so little revision was done (134), but later on writers like James Joyce and poets like W.H. Auden considered revising a creative act in of itself. But no one knows how many of the oral classics were revised: “We possess no manuscript drafts of poems in process by Sappho, Catullus, Horace or Virgil. And we are in the same ignorant situation with respect to the great dramatists Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides” (145). We see testimony from writers, the role computers, the role of editors and collaborators, and even revision after publication.

The “Professional Writers” article is more formal, involving case studies of professional writers, many of them scholars in a particular field. This article is not as interesting as the Creative Writers article: the presentation in that article is more readable and informal. However, the case studies approach to explaining the revision stage for professional writers reflect the topic. Nevertheless, Horning exposes readers to great models for writing. Horning follows Subject A’s writing process and then offers an analysis of the Subject A’s work: “In describing this observation as a metaphor, Subject A captures the key feature of her metarhetorical awareness, her conscious use of metaphors to describe the writing and revising processes, whether her own or those of others” (128). These are useful observations that bring more light on the subjects Horning observes and how professional writers think about writing.

Practical Application

The books progresses from history to theory to practical applications for teachers and writers. The last two chapters is where the book shines. “Best Classroom Practices” offer various approaches teachers can take to teach students revising. Experienced teachers may be familiar with the practices: peer review, writing centers, portfolios, teacher-student conferences, and group review. But they provided a refresher. More importantly, they are excellent tools for new instructors on writing. However, the article provides more information on peer review than other practices, which actually reflects the real situations in the classroom: teachers are more likely to do peer review than anything else. Teacher-student conferences come in second. The article offers research on peer review, finding “that both the student writer and the peer reviewer benefit from these sessions” (179). From there, the article explains useful ideas that all teachers can use with their classes, including questions writers and readers should ask one another before, during, and after reading their work.

Finally, “Practical Guidelines for Teachers and Writers” explains the realities of revising.  Cathleen, writer of the essay, describes students’ perceptions of writing: writing comes easily for professional writers and creative writers–the words flow on the page, perfect and ready for publication. However, “Writing well, however, is a learned skill for everybody, and all writers are lucky if words occasionally come easily and ideas flow well. The truth is writing is a struggle. It’s difficult to get a piece started, to find a focus; it’s a challenge to grow an idea, flesh it out, give it life” (200-201). The task of teachers, then, is to understand students’ perspectives of writing and how those perspectives can be debunked: writing is a skill, and once students understand this, they are better prepared to approach writing. The best practical idea from this article is the creative act revision can be, that it is constantly occurring, even during the creation of a text. It’s these two chapters that stand out most.

Read It; Read it All. Twice, if You Must

This book clearly defines what revision is: correcting grammatical mistakes, punctuation, mechanics, and so on is editing: revising involves checking for style, tone, and diction, rearranging text for coherence, weeding out sentences and paragraphs that do not contribute to the overall text. If anything can be taken from this book, it’s that once Basic Writers understand what revision is and what it involves, they are more likely to improve their writing. Read this book often–it explains what is hard to explain for most writers: revision.

1 Response to Book Review

  1. harmony5321 says:

    The book sounds great! Revising is my favorite part of writing, but it’s not always easiest. Can’t wait to read it!

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