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:
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.