The 10 Revision Commandments: Writing, Hamilton, and Miranda

The 10 Revision Commandments: Writing, Hamilton, and Miranda

Lin-Manuel Miranda spent seven years writing and revising the show “Hamilton.”

Revision takes time. When revising, we must consider our audience, our voice, and our focus.

It helps to get feedback, to be open to surprises, and to have fun when we revise our writing.

We know that writing is an important skill. For example, research shows that writing is one of the most highly valued skills by employers (e.g., Hart Research Associates, 2013), it can help our mental health (e.g., Pennebaker, 1997; Sloan et al., 2008), and it is a central part of our work as psychologists (Beins & Beins, 2021). We also know that among the most important skills in the writing process is revision (see Clark et al., 2019, Chapter 3, for a review of the theoretical and research literature on revision).

In my feedback on student papers, I try to provide what has been called “ wise feedback ,” which includes steps students can take to revise their writing. But sometimes it’s hard to communicate how important revision is and to inspire my students to develop their skills at revision.

I’ve been listening to the Hamilton soundtrack and to interviews with Lin-Manuel Miranda, his music director, and other cast members. I’ve listened to recordings of workshops and showcases—including material that was altered before the final Broadway version of the show. Miranda’s work on Hamilton is a perfect demonstration of revision. We know from research by Zimmerman and Kitsantas (2002) that observing others improve their writing can increase our own writing skill and feelings of self-efficacy . Maybe Hamilton will capture students’ attention . So, after careful consideration, and multiple revisions: The Ten Revision Commandments

These commandments aren’t new. For example, the literature on writing has a lot to say about audience, focus, and voice (Graham, MacArthur, & Hebert, 2019). Nor are these commandments exhaustive. However, I provide this compendium as an introduction, or a summary, for students and other writers. I’ve also referenced a few empirical studies that support these commandments.

1. Revision takes time.

Hamilton did not appear, full-blown, out of Miranda’s head. It took him seven years to write and perfect the show. (I’m pretty sure it’s perfect as it is now..) My students don’t have seven years to perfect their course papers, and we professors don’t usually have seven years to work on a professional article, book, or uh, blog post. However, as my old friend and colleague Charles Brewer always used to say: Things always take longer than they do. We should be prepared to spend time and effort to improve our work—and resist the temptation to think that this time (like the 60th post we’ve written, the 30th research paper) we won’t need so much revision.

2. Think about the audience.

The first draft of a paper is for the writer—we write to discover what we’re thinking. But after that, we need to write for our audience. We want to be clear about who will likely read our work, and what […]

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