sift and sort – a revision strategy for a problem paper

Those of you who like to work with material stuff, moving actual objects around, might want to try to this revision strategy. It’s not too dissimilar to the computer based version, but here you get to use paper and scissors.

1. Write the main point that you want to make, your take home message, onto a small library card.

2. Print out a copy of your paper.

3. Cut your paper up, paragraph by paragraph. Mix these paragraphs up so that they aren’t in their initial order. You should have an assorted heap of paragraphs.

4. Now place the card with your major point in front of you.

5. Go through the paragraphs one by one, putting all of those which relate to the point in a heap next to the card.  These are the useful paragraphs. Place the paragraphs that don’t seem to have anything to do with the point in another heap to one side. These may or may not be useful, but probably not. You’re sorting the wheat from the chaff, eh, or lentils from the pod as in the picture…

15780460277_79f42f84db_b6. Now put the paragraphs in the useful pile into an order that makes your argument – one that gets you from a good starting off place to the point on the card. Remember that the first paragraph needs to anticipate why we need to know about this point, now.

As you sift through the paragraphs, ask yourself –

  • Does this paragraph advance my argument?
  • Is it necessary?
  • Is it sufficient?
  • Does it provide evidence?
  • Is it explanatory or illustrative?
  • Does it go to the significance of the point?
  • Does it raise questions, add caveats or refer to important debates?

7. Having sifted and sorted, you may find that there are some gaps. Write what should go in this space on separate cards and put it/them into the relevant hole(s).

8. Now read each paragraph carefully making sure that everything in each paragraph is coherent.

  • Does the reader know from the lead sentence what the paragraph is about?
  • Is there an ending which will lead onto the next move?
  • Is the middle of the paragraph all about the same thing? Is there anything lurking within the paragraph that is actually another paragraph or is just superfluous?
  • Is there anything missing?

9. Take a deep breath. You should now be in a position to redraft your paper. 

Now you can return to your original draft, in its digital incarnation,  and cut and paste the document into the new order, the one on the reordered, cut up paragraphs. You can transfer information from the cards marking gaps into the new document,  putting in enough holding text to signal what you need to do next.

And you’re off rewriting…. 

(This strategy is adapted from Bruce Bellenger who adapted it from Peter Elbow. It’s a remix in other words.)

About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
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3 Responses to sift and sort – a revision strategy for a problem paper

  1. lynbarham says:

    Or do the same, on screen with ‘post-its’, with Scrivener (priced, but not too expensive) and then export into Word or whatever. But that only saves the scissors – stick with Pat for the thinking!


  2. Lucy says:

    I like this strategy and hope to use it to produce my first article after graduation.


  3. Pingback: Revising by chopping up | MVM learning

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