Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Revising (or Reenvisioning) Your Literacy Narrative


The processes of revising and editing aren’t the same. As the authors of A Writer’s Reference note, when you revise “you focus on clarity and effectiveness; when you edit, you check for correctness” (29).

On Wednesday, I will ask you to check for correctness. Today, I am asking you to focus on the big picture. With that in mind, consider the differences between the side-by-side paragraphs below. On the left is the first paragraph of a rough draft of a literacy narrative written in 2015 by then-college student Michelle Nguyen. The paragraph on the right is her revision.

My family used to live in the heart of Hanoi, Vietnam. The neighborhood was small but swamped with crime. Drug addicts scoured the alleys and stole the most mundane things–old clothes, worns slippers, even license plates of motorbikes. Like anyone else in Vietnam in the ’90s, we struggled with poverty. There was no entertainment device in our house aside from an 11″ black-and-white television. Even then, electricity went off for hours on a weekly basis. (25)

I grew up in the heart of Hanoi–Nhà Dàu–a small but busy neighborhood swamped with crime. Houses, wedged in among cafés and other local businesses (see fig. 1), measured uniformly about 200 square feet, and the walls were so thin that we could hear every heated debate and impassioned disagreement. Drug addicts scoured the vicinity and stole the most mundane things–old clothes, worn slippers, even license plates of motorbikes. It was a neighborhood where dogs howled and kids ran amok and where the earth was always moist and marked with stains. It was the 1990s Vietnam in miniature, with all the turmoil and growing pains of a newly reborn nation. (32)

Revising (or Reenvisioning) by Adding and Deleting Details

In her revision, Nguyen paints a clearer picture of her neighborhood with these added details:

  • Nhà Dàu, the name of her neighborhood in Hanoi
  • the size of the houses, cafés, and other businesses
  • the thinness of the walls
  • the sounds of arguments
  • the howls of dogs
  • the sight of running children
  • the moisture of the ground
  • The image of her neighborhood as a microcosm of her country–a “Vietnam in miniature, with all the turmoil and growing pains of a newly reborn nation” (32).

Nguyen also deletes a couple of details:

  • the 11-inch black-and-white TV
  • the weekly power outages 

Although the TV and the power outages provide specifics about her childhood home, Nguyen realized through the process of revision that they were details she didn’t need to include.

As you work on your revision, turn to pages 25-26 and 32-33 of A Writer’s Reference. There you will find the complete rough draft and revision of Nguyen’s literacy narrative. As you revise the body paragraphs of your own narrative, examine the differences between the body paragraphs of Nguyen’s draft and those of her revision. Later, as you revise the ending of your essay, consider the changes in Nguyen’s conclusion.

Revising (or Reenvisioning) by Reorganizing

  • If you drafted your narrative chronologically, try starting in the middle or working in reverse.
  • If your draft begins in the middle or the end, try reordering it chronologically.

And for More Ideas and Inspiration . . .

Browse the New York Times feature “The 50 Best Memoirs of the Past 50 Years.” The description of each memoir in the list includes a short quotation, a sentence or two, from the book. Browse the list, and if you read a line that you find evocative, write it down in your journal. Here’s one that I recorded in my journal:

He [J.M. Coetzee] feels like a crab pulled out of its shell, pink and wounded and obscene” (qtd. Szalai).

Writing of himself in third person, Coetzee vividly depicts the vulnerability that many of us feel when we put ourselves on the page for others to see.

Writing Help

If you would like for someone to review your literacy narrative before you submit it, look to the Center for Academic Engagement, which offers a variety of options:

Works Cited

Hacker, Diana, and Nancy Sommers. “How to Write a Literacy Narrative.” A Writer’s Reference. GTCC Custom 9th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2018. pp. 34-35.

Nguyen, Michelle. “A Place to Begin.” A Writer’s Reference by Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers. GTCC Custom 9th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2018. pp. 32-33.

—. Rough Draft with Peer Comments. A Writer’s Reference by Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers. GTCC Custom 9th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2018. pp. 25-26.

Szalai, Jennifer. 17: Boyhood by J.M. Coetzee. “The 50 Best Memoirs of the Past 50 Years.” The New York Times, 26 June 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/06/26/books/best-memoirs.html.


You’ve Got to . . .

For the fourth installment in our You’ve-Got-To series, I offer an assignment that focuses on the television sitcom Community. As you read it, ask yourself how the writer might revise the paragraphs by adding and subtracting details. 

You’ve Got to Watch Community

Community is a TV show on Netflix with 110 episodes around 30 minutes each. The show starts off about Jeff Winger, a former lawyer who faked getting a bachelor’s degree. In order to become a practicing lawyer again he enrolls at Greendale community college to earn his degree. The show follows Jeff as he makes a study group with a bunch of random people in his spanish class. He ends up not liking anyone in his study group and constantly talks about how he can’t wait to get out of Greendale. As time goes on he continues to meet with his study group and he actually starts to like them and the school. 

I first started watching community at the beginning of quarantine because my sister showed it to me. I really enjoyed the show and I liked it so much that I finished it in 2 weeks. The show was super funny and it was pretty cool watching Jeff go from hating the school to loving it. You also get to watch the study group grow closer together and become a family.  Community has a little something for everyone and you should definitely watch it.

YGT Notes: “You’ve Got to Watch Community”

  • In the first paragraph, the writer includes the number of episodes and their run time. Although those are concrete details, they are specifics that the writer doesn’t need to include in the summary. 
  • While Community does stream on Netflix, it is not a Netflix original series (such as Stranger Things). Details that the writer might add to the first paragraph include these: Community originally aired on NBC (2009-14) and streamed for a sixth season on Yahoo.
  • After the writer names the central character, Jeff Winger, for the first time, he should follow the character’s name with the actor’s name in parentheses. That’s the stylistic convention for identifying actors when you’re writing about TV/streaming series and films. 
  • The writer notes that Jeff doesn’t like his classmates initially. Adding some of his personality traits, naming some of his classmates (followed by the actors’ names), and including some of the classmates’ character traits would give readers a clearer picture of Jeff’s circle of friends.  
  • The second paragraph offers a more effective place to present the number of episodes in the series. When the writer notes that he watched the entire series in a couple of weeks, he could include the detail that he watched all 110 episodes to emphasize Community’s binge-worthiness. 
  • Since the writer is a community college student, he might add to the second paragraph his observations about the similarities and/or the differences between the experiences of the fictional Greendale students and his own at GTCC.
  • As a guide for addressing trouble spots, the writer should consult these pages of A Writer’s Reference: 259-71 (commas), 293 (capitalize proper nouns), and 301 (italic for titles). 

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