Text: Higher Order Concerns

You’ve written a draft of your paper.  Now your work is done, so you should just turn it in, right?  No, WAIT!  Step away from the computer, take a deep breath, and don’t submit that assignment just yet.

You should always revise and proofread your paper.  A first draft is usually a very rough draft.  It takes time and at least two (or more!) additional Drawing of a watch face, cut away near the top to reveal a series of gears. Scaffolding leads up from trees at the bottom of the watch face, to the open gear area, to the top of the watch where four work crew members relax and enjoy the viewpasses through to really make sure your argument is strong, your writing is polished, and there are no typos or grammatical errors.  Making these efforts will always give you a better paper in the end.

Try to wait a day or two before looking back over your paper.  If you are on a tight deadline, then take a walk, grab a snack, drink some coffee, or do something else to clear your head so you can read through your paper with fresh eyes.  The longer you wait, the more likely it is you will see what is actually on the page and not what you meant to write.

What to Look for in the First Pass(es): Higher-Order Concerns

Typically, early review passes of a paper should focus on the larger issues, which are known as higher-order concerns. Higher-order concerns relate to the strength of your ideas, the support for your argument, and the logic of how your points are presented. Some important higher-order concerns are listed below, along with some questions you can ask yourself while proofreading diting to see if your paper needs work in any of these areas:

  • The Thesis Statement: 
    • Does your paper have a clear thesis statement? If so, where is it?
    • Does the introduction lead up to that thesis statement?
    • Does each paragraph directly relate back to your thesis statement?
  • The Argument: 
    • Is your thesis statement supported by enough evidence?
    • Do you need to add any explanations or examples to better make your case?
    • Is there any unnecessary or irrelevant information that should be removed?
  • Large-Scale Organization:
    • Could your paper be easily outlined or tree-diagrammed?
    • Are your paragraphs presented in a logical order?
    • Are similar ideas grouped together?
    • Are there clear transitions (either verbal or logical) that link each paragraph to what came before?
  • Organization within Paragraphs:
    • Is each paragraph centered around one main idea?
    • Is there a clear topic sentence for each paragraph?
    • Are any of your paragraphs too short or too long?
    • Do all the sentences in each paragraph relate back to their respective topic sentences?
    • Are the sentences presented in a logical order, so each grows out of what came before?
  • printed text with red edit marks all over the pageThe Assignment Instructions:
    • Does your paper answer all aspects of the writing prompt?
    • Have you completed all of the tasks required by the instructor?
    • Did you include all necessary sections (for example, an abstract or reference list)?
    • Are you following the required style for formatting the paper as a whole, the reference list, and/or your citations? (That last question is technically a lower-order concern, but it falls under the assignment instructions and is something where you could easily lose points if you don’t follow instructions.)

When reading through your early draft(s) of your paper, mark up your paper with those concerns in mind first.  Keep revising until you have fixed all of these larger-scale issues.

Your paper may change a lot as you do this – that’s completely normal!

You might have to add more material; cut sentences, paragraphs, or even whole sections; or rewrite significant portions of the paper to fix any problems related to these higher-order concerns.  This is why you should be careful not to get too bogged down with small-scale problems early on: there is no point in spending a lot of time fixing sentences that you end up cutting because they don’t actually fit in with your topic.