Category Archives: Revision

Outrun those run-on sentences

By Katya Rivers

What is a run-on sentence?

A run-on sentence consists of two or more independent clauses that have been joined without appropriate punctuation or a coordinating conjunction. Dividing a run-on sentence into concise, meaningful units can help to clarify your message.

First, an independent clause is a group of words that can stand alone as a sentence. You can tell because it has both a subject and a verb and forms a complete thought. Second, a coordinating conjunction is a word that joins two independent clauses. You can remember these as FANBOYS: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.

How do I find it?

  • Locate the independent clauses; it may help to underline the subject-verb pairs.
  • Make the separation clear by drawing vertical lines between independent clauses.

How do I fix it?

  • Use a period and proper capitalization to separate the independent clauses into two (or more) complete sentences,
  • OR use a comma followed by a coordinating conjunction to connect separate but related independent clauses,
  • OR use a semicolon (;), colon (:), or em-dash (–) as appropriate to separate related independent clauses,
  • OR change one independent clause into a dependent clause and join the two clauses, using appropriate punctuation,
  • OR rewrite two fused independent clauses as one cohesive independent clause.

Let’s see it in action:

Incorrect: One way to confront a problem is to seek advice it can come from someone with more life experience.

Correction A: One way to confront a problem is to seek advice; it can come from someone with more life experience.

Correction B: One way to confront a problem is to seek advice. Frequently, guidance can come from someone with more life experience.

Correction C: One way to confront a problem is to seek advice from someone with more life experience.

Katya Rivers is a senior majoring in religion.

Revising or Editing?

by Shannon Naylor

Many students hear “revising and editing” and think of them as synonymous terms. This isn’t the case. While both are practices that improve pieces of writing, revising and editing are actually two different ways of approaching that goal.

  • Revising is intended to help you address the big picture: content, organization, the form and structure of a narrative or argument.
  • Editing, on the other hand, focuses on details like sentence structure, proper grammar, punctuation usage, and other mechanical aspects of writing.

These two activities have a shared purpose and often occur at the same time, but they are separate processes with their own merits.

To illustrate, let’s imagine that a student takes time to revise her paper, but spends no time editing it. She looks over her piece and notices that her introduction and conclusion contain completely different ideas. She re-reads her paper and discovers that her main ideas are better stated in her conclusion, so she rewrites her introduction so that her paper has a unified direction. She also repositions some paragraphs, changing their sequence, in order to strengthen her argument. However, misplaced or missing commas riddle her paper, and several of her citations are formatted incorrectly. She revised, but didn’t edit.

Another student, feeling rushed to finish before a deadline, only edits his paper. He notices and corrects several typos, and adds a citation for a quote he’d overlooked. He realizes that many of his sentences have a repeated structure (it “sounds” a bit monotone). These sentences are improved once he edits them. However, he fails to notice that some of his paragraphs have too many ideas in them. And while his thesis is a clearly written sentence, it doesn’t capture the essence of what he argues in the body of his paper. He has edited, but not revised.

Each paper needs BOTH processes.

I hope that the example of these imaginary students clarifies what revising and editing look like and how they can each improve a paper. Just remember that revising and editing work best when you make time to do them both.

 

Shannon Naylor is a former Principia writing tutor and the current post-graduate teaching intern in the Center for Teaching and Learning.

Claims + evidence = persuasion

by Shannon Naylor

Claims and evidence make sense in a courtroom: the prosecutor claims that the defendant did the crime and provides evidence to build her case. If there is not enough evidence, or it takes the wrong form, the jury doesn’t accept the claim of guilt. The same system applies in persuasive writing, although with lower stakes. As the writer of a persuasive paper, you must make a claim or series of claims that must then be supported by evidence.

Let’s clarify what we mean with some definitions. In our example of a court case, the claim is the accusation of guilt. In a paper, the claim is the thesis and every other statement that is something that can be argued. Courtroom evidence might include video surveillance footage or fingerprints left behind at the scene of the crime. In a paper, evidence is comprised of facts, examples, and data.

We have claims and evidence, but how do we use them? The first step is to remember that any paper that is all evidence (that means only evidence) is a report, not a persuasive essay; likewise, a paper that is made of only claims cannot be persuasive because the claims are unfounded (without evidence). To illustrate: if I were to lecture on the theme that cats make the best pets, I would never persuade you of my position if I didn’t list reasons why. Similarly, if I rattled off cat facts, you would probably be confused (and then frustrated) at my lack of explanation. A balance must be struck between the two so that you have something to be persuasive about (claims) and something to be persuasive with (evidence).

In practice, this is easily seen in the structure of a typical paragraph, which opens with a topic sentence, or claim. This is followed by the body of the paragraph, which is a mixture of facts (evidence) and commentary (claims tying facts together). To see the balance of claims and evidence in your writing, try going through your papers with two highlighters. Use one color to highlight each claim, and the other color to highlight each piece of evidence. Now that they are visible, you can check to make sure that your claims and evidence are working together harmoniously.

Shannon Naylor is a senior studying theatre and English with a focus on creative writing. Currently, she is working on capstones for her majors and has just finished the spring production of Our Country’s Good.

Chop off an arm, save a life

by Bailey Bischoff

You know it’s the right thing to do, but that doesn’t make it any easier… you stare straight ahead, wishing things could be different… mentally forcing yourself to take control… repressing the urge to run away… you can do this… you CAN do this…. You can DO this… you take a deep breath… and… and…. Delete an entire paragraph.

It can be a difficult task to revise a paper. It takes a willingness on the part of the author to critique his or her own writing. Oftentimes, we put so much thought and effort into the act of writing that we can’t bear to see our paper torn apart by red slashes and arrows or see our precious words deleted. Sometimes, we don’t think that we’ll be able to come up with anything else to replace the words that are already on the page. However, there comes a time when we must realize that revising is necessary and that to truly improve our writing we must look at it with impartial eyes.

One of the most important pieces in the revision process is time. It can be extremely challenging to give yourself enough time to not only write the paper but also revise it. However, it is even more challenging to properly revise when your deadline is hanging over your head, as there is more pressure to just be done with it.

It is also important to take time in between writing and revising your paper. Take a walk, take a nap, do other homework, eat dinner: just give yourself time before looking at your paper again. You will be less attached to the words on the page if you are looking at it with new eyes and a refreshed mind. Your ability to refine your paper stems from your ability to distance yourself from your paper when you revise. Sometimes you have to chop off an arm to save a life.

Tips for revision:

  • Give yourself time to both write AND revise your paper.
  • After writing, take a break (walk, nap, eat dinner, etc.).
  • Revise your paper knowing that you can always improve and that you will have the creativity and inspiration necessary to replace what you cut out.
  • Have a friend/peer look at your paper for an even more objective critique.
  • If you can, look at your paper again for any final revisions or edits.

Bailey Bischoff is a sophomore majoring in political science.

 

Reining in your creative genius

by Samantha Bronkar

Have you ever had writing moments when thoughts flowed directly through your fingertips onto paper? Rather than letting the flow of inspiration stop so you can find a perfect word or phrase, you can be free to express ideas as easily as they enter your mind.

The kicker? Revision.

If a writer wants to embody joyous, inspired thoughts on paper, she must also take on the task of reviewing her ideas individually and collectively. She must evaluate her ideas for validity, clarity, and flow.

Below are three questions that can guide your editing process:

How can I say this sentence more clearly? Take this question one sentence—one phrase, even—at a time. First drafts are often full of cluttered and unclear sentences. Once you stumble across a confusing or long-winded sentence, try breaking it down into its basic elements. Figure out what it was you were trying to say in the first place. When you understand what you wanted to say, simply say it! In the words of Jack Kerouac, acclaimed American novelist and poet, “One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” Rough draft thoughts can be messy. Revision is the time for tweaking and refining; this is the step when useless words, phrases, or sentences can be removed.

Does this sentence (or thought) help my argument? Look at your paper as a whole. First, decide what your thesis or purpose is in the paper. Next, take on the introductory sentence for each paragraph. Your introductory sentence should guide the rest of the paragraph. If you come across a sentence that seems to counter your main purpose, or sidetrack from it, the sentence may belong somewhere else in the paper, or the thought is irrelevant altogether. Tying each point back to the original thesis can help determine a sentence’s importance (or weakness).

Does this paragraph make sense in the context of my entire paper? (Is it being a good neighbor?) Does it prove my thesis? Some paragraphs can be complete and insightful on their own. However, they must also work with the other paragraphs to prove the thesis. Start with one paragraph. Read through it and decide the purpose it serves in your entire paper. With that overall goal in mind—your thesis—move on to the paragraph following it. The following paragraph should build on the material from the previous one, and both of these—along with all the others—should work together to prove your original thesis or point.

Help yourself out by leaving plenty of time to revise. In your rough draft, you should feel free to be messy, ask big questions, and take leaps of faith. Let your inspiration flow! Before the final is due (and hopefully not the night before), take the time to re-evaluate your initial thoughts and refine them. Remember, revising should be the largest part of the writing process!

Samantha Bronkar is an English major, and she is a member of the women’s soccer and softball teams at Principia College.

Out loud and backwards

by Laura Tibbetts

Sometimes, by the time you have written a paper, revised it thoroughly, and gotten to the final stages of editing, you’ve read through it so many times that you practically have it memorized. Even if you haven’t quite reached that point, you might at least have a basic idea in your mind of how the sentences look and sound. If that is the case, it can sometimes make be difficult to notice small grammatical mistakes as you’re reading.

When this has happened to me in the past, I have found it helpful to follow some advice I received from my dad, who was an English major at Principia. His suggestion was to read papers out loud and backwards. Just to clarify, that does not mean reading the entire paper backwards word-for-word. Instead, you read each sentence forwards, starting at the final sentence and working your way backwards until you reach the beginning of the paper.

This is helpful for two reasons. First, reading the paper out loud causes you to look at individual words more carefully than you might if you were reading in your head. It changes the pacing of how you are reading, which also helps you to notice mistakes that you might not otherwise see. Second, reading the paper backwards prevents you from getting caught up in the flow of the paper and allows you to focus on each sentence individually, which helps you edit more carefully.

The out-loud-and-backwards technique has helped me on multiple occasions, and I hope it helps you, too!

Laura Tibbetts is a French and art major, and her favorite college academic experience so far has been studying abroad in France.

Rainbow revision

by Shannon Naylor

I recently finished a draft of an important research paper. Like most of my first drafts, it needed many improvements before it was ready to be turned in. I printed out a copy, grabbed a red pen, and started editing. By the time I was done with the first page, I could hardly distinguish between the different edits, notes, and proposed additions that littered the page. Frankly, it was a mess. What to do?

Good revision, like a good paper, is organized so that you can make sense of what editing needs to be done. On my first pass, I hadn’t been looking for specific things to fix, and I had made the edits difficult to read. Here’s the revision strategy that I’ve been using since then in order to polish my papers.

This particular strategy works best with a hard copy of the paper. It allows you to have a tactile interaction with the process, but you can achieve something similar with Microsoft Word if preferred. I find that it is easiest to use three differently colored pens and a highlighter. Any colors will do so long as they are readable, but I like to use red, blue, and green pens with a yellow highlighter.

  1. Skim through your paper without making any marks to determine what its weaknesses are. (In mine, I needed to fix typos, add commentary, remove repetition, and edit for sentence clarity.)
  2. On your next pass, cross out typos and poorly phrased or unnecessary sentences with the red pen.
  3. Write in changes and additions with blue pen.
  4. Use the green pen to make marginal notes about what each paragraph says and does. (See Put It in Reverse for details on this strategy.)
  5. Go through with the highlighter to mark structural issues or patterns that need to be made visible. (This may change from paper to paper. For example, in one paper I marked places where I repeated words with a highlighter, but in another I used it to indicate where I already had commentary, where it was missing, or where I needed to add more.)
  6. Celebrate!

By the end of this revision process, you should have a good understanding of the current state of your paper as well as how you intend to fix it. You’ll be set to have a radical time revising!

 

Shannon is a junior studying theatre and English with a focus on creative writing. She is looking forward to studying and performing Shakespeare with the England Abroad in the fall.

Use WIRMI when you’re squirmy

by Ellen Sprague

A student just left my office, the third this week to whom I’ve touted what is fast becoming my favorite revision strategy—WIRMI. When students come to me feeling squirmy about their writing; when they are confused and uncertain about why their professor has told them to “clarify” or “explain”; when their professor has dared ask “What do you mean?” in the margin—that’s when I like to pull out WIRMI.

I learned about WIRMI in Linda Flower’s now out-of-print Problem-Solving Strategies for Writing in College and Community. That title zeroes in on just what WIRMI does; it solves problems.

WIRMI stands for this:

What

I

Really

Mean

Is

Here’s how to use it:

When you’re working on clarifying a thesis, just start with “What I really mean is” and follow with a direct explanation. You can refine the language once you get the right ideas  onto the page.

When you’re writing or revising a draft, WIRMI can act as a placeholder—again allowing you to get the ideas out before worrying how to craft them into graceful prose (which comes after other revision steps). After the paragraph, or perhaps in the margin, write “What I really mean is…” and complete that sentence simply and directly. The new sentence will likely serve as the basis for a clear and accurate topic sentence.

Don’t worry about the actual words “What I really mean is” cluttering up your paper. In some instances you can replace WIRMI in your draft with something like this, “This means that…,” and again, complete the sentence. It will flow. In other cases, you can drop the initial phrase completely because the rest of your revised sentence will be clear and say, believe it or not, what you really mean!

WIRMI will help your reader understand exactly what you mean because you’ll actually have to write it clearly. Quit squirming and give it a try!

Ellen Sprague teaches Principia College’s writing/research tutor training course, Teaching the Writing Process, and manages the tutor program and this blog. She holds an MA in French from Middlebury College and an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Capstone conquest

by EliSabeth Bancroft Wessel Meindl

Capstone.

We’ve all heard it, a lot of us know it as an old friend, or sordid enemy. And regardless of your relationship with it—whether you’re just getting to know it, talking about it, or already heavily involved with it, it’s a big deal. The secret that I want to let you in on is that (come closer)—it’s not. That final capstone product is made up of a dozen (okay, or more) little things that are completely in your grasp, even through blurred vision of sleepless nights.

Here are ten tips to help the process!

  1. Stay focused, go back to that contract and your advisor as many times as you need to make sure you’re not veering off the path of intent. You will find many tangents that could easily become their own capstones, so remember to keep your topic and purpose in focus. When I was first attending Principia I was in a class where there was a huge assignment due at the end of the term. We had been working on it the entire semester, and about three weeks out I was still unable to pull this thing to a manageable paper. So I met with my professor, who was kind enough to be blunt and tell me that I was ignoring the assignment. That’s why I was struggling. It happens, we get side tracked, so be aware of this pitfall and don’t waste your time.
  2. Be honest—with yourself and with your advisor. There is no person out there who is looking for you to fail, especially your capstone guide, so be willing to let go of the fear that you haven’t done all he or she has asked and keep recognizing that you are doing God’s work just as much as your own work. It’s our job to be obedient to the one Mind, and part of that is humility. If you’re struggling, talk to your advisor!
  3. Write what you know. That can’t be said enough! Write down all the things you know, and when you get stuck, sit down and write what you know again.  This will help you break writer’s block and give a fresh perspective or tone to your own “voice” in the writing, because there on the paper will be all those facts you’ve picked up during this project in your own words.
  4. Outline. The same five-paragraph paper outline they taught me in high school was where I started my 60-page capstone, and you know what? It totally helped. It gave me a simple starting place, and kept me focused in a logical direction. Point, sub-point, sub-point, repeat. There will be more than five paragraphs, and more than two sub-points, but creating a simple “form” to plug your information into it will help you organize your thoughts and all those factoids you’ve learned.
  5. Don’t pre-edit; it doesn’t help anyone. If you’re so distracted by the sentence you just typed that you’re not paying attention to the next one you’re putting down, you are pulling focus from every good idea you’re reflecting.  Just put the words down and let them sit together. Stay attentive to the ones you are writing and get through the whole idea before returning to check your commas or seeing if there’s a different adjective you would prefer to use. These are all important things, but they come later.
  6. Save multiple drafts. Label them any way you want, but don’t limit yourself to just one draft that you change again and again, because tomorrow you may realize that the silly idea you typed today was actually brilliant, but you can’t quite remember it. I went through 20+ drafts of my capstone. No, you don’t need 20 versions, but for me it was helpful to just “Save As” every time I went in to make changes or continue writing.
  7. You do have enough information. Don’t over-research. Write! So what if you have some holes—get the paper down and see what kind of Swiss cheese you’ve made and then go back and look for specific answers. But what if you don’t have enough information? Go back to your main sources: who are their sources? Go find them. It’s a good place to start if you haven’t already been there, but get it all down on paper first to find out
  8. Take breaks. Writing for 16 hours is impressive but highly unproductive. Set timers, use other homework as the balance, and tell yourself, “I’ll do 30 minutes of capstone, then 30 minutes of [blank].” After a 45-minute session with your capstone, stand up, walk around, and stare at something farther away than your computer screen. It will help you stay focused, and you won’t feel like your trapped under the never-ending project.
  9. Use technology for good. Install a blocker on your search engine that gives you five minutes to surf the Web in-between 25-minute blocks of Internet lockdown.
  10. Breathe. You’re going to do this.

Elisabeth Meindl resides in Bellville, Texas, and is a current MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts student at Goddard College. Last semester she completed and turned in her religion major capstone at Principia College.

Put it in reverse

by Haley Morton

So the last word is written on your paper. How do you feel? Satisfied? Tired? Ready for some chocolate? If you’re at all like me, you probably a combination of all of those. But sometimes…you still think your paper is a complete mess. Ok, I’ll admit it—that’s me all the time. The good news is I have an answer for all of your first draft messy writing problems: reverse outlines! Get a blank sheet of paper, grab a hard copy of your paper, and let’s get started!

Here’s what you do:

  1. Read your paper all the way through with your intended thesis in mind.  Ask yourself: Does my intended thesis match the big idea I’m finding in my paper?
  2. Go back to the introduction. Have a friend read your introduction and ask him what he thinks your thesis is. If it matches yours, jot it down at the top of the blank sheet of paper.
  3. Move on to the next paragraph. Write down the big idea of this paragraph under your paraphrased thesis. Be honest with yourself, if the paragraph has two main ideas instead of one, write them both down. If you can’t figure out the main idea, you’ll need revise the paragraph to have one, or perhaps you’ll find that the ideas belong in other paragraphs and have just been misplaced.
  4. Repeat step three for the rest of your body paragraphs.
  5. When you get to the conclusion, watch out for ideas you haven’t introduced in the rest of your paper. You don’t want these. Also, do you find anything in your conclusion that might make a better thesis for your paper than the one you already have? If so, take note.
  6. Now take a step back. Look at what your reverse outline (everything you wrote on that blank piece of paper) is telling you. Does anything need to be moved around for logical reasoning’s sake? Do you need more evidence for some of your ideas? Should you refine your thesis to match the development of your ideas (rather than how you thought they would develop before you got to the conclusion)?
  7. Make the necessary changes according to your outline. Your paper will make a lot more sense to your reader now that you’ve approached your revision this way.

Reverse outlines shouldn’t be frustrating, so be sure to be patient with yourself. Revising takes a little extra time, but it’s worth it’s worth the better grade. Plus, you’ll feel even more accomplished! Happy revising!

Haley is a senior at Principia College and a political science and history double major. She has spent the last four years writing, studying, and running cross country and track. Currently, she is working on her capstone about Title IX and women in athletics.