March 22, 2006

Revision Strategies of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers, by Nancy Sommers

Sommers’ basic idea is that theories of writing fail because they model themselves on speech. They fail because they don’t take into account perhaps the most important part of writing: revision.

If writing is forward moving and irreversible, as speech is, then there is no real role for revision. Sommers defines revision broadly as “a sequence of changes in a composition—changes which are initiated by cues and occur continually throughout the writing of a work.? So revision is not just a “post-writing? exercise, but something that occurs throughout the process.

She then contrasts students’ ideas about revision with those of experienced adult writers. Students tended to see revision as a re-wording activity, whereas experienced adult writers tended to change their vision throughout the writing process. They tended to “re-vision? the work, and to use the revision process as a means of discovering meaning. Sommers does not address the possibility of the “one draft? professional writer, and ways in which this writer does or doesn’t revise. She also didn’t talk about the extent to which students—even if they couldn’t talk about the revision process—might have been revising anyway.

Sommers goes on to argue that the reason students revise in such a shallow manner isn’t that they’re unwilling (although there must be some who are), but because they have been taught to revise “in a consistently narrow and predictable way.? She ends her essay with a call to encourage student writers to see writing as a discovery process, as a repeated process of seeing, and then seeing again.