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PARTS & SECTIONS

Click on any  part or section below:

Part I. Basics/Process

  A. Chapters 1-6: Start

  B. Ch. 7-13: Organize

  C. Ch. 14-20: Revise/Edit

Part II. College Writing

   D. Ch. 21-23: What Is It?

   E. Ch. 24-30: Write on Rdgs.

   F. Ch.31-35: Arguments

  G. Ch. 36-42: Research

  H. Ch. 43-48: Literature

   I.  Ch. 49-58: Majors & Work

Part III. Grammar 

   www.OnlineGrammar.org
 
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 Study Questions
     

 

                                              

Chapter 18: FIVE SPECIAL METHODS

                 
What are five very simple but surprisingly effective revision techniques?

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Mixed-Length Sentences

Active vs. Passive Verbs

Orderly Descriptions

Standard English vs. Slang

Transitions as Words & Paragraph Bridges

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Also See "Spell and Grammar Check" in the "What Is 'Revising'?" chapter.

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Introduction

Do you want to make a dramatic difference in whether or not your writing is actually read?  Do you want your content to be especially clear and your writing interesting when you write as an academic person and as a professional?  Learning these five simple but very effective methods of revising can make the difference between low and high grades in college, and so-so or excellent salaries and future prospects in your future profession.  You may already partly or completely follow one or two of these.  Try all five.  Each is simple to apply in the revision stage, and each one is something that excellent writers learn to master.  
    

Mixed-Length Sentences

Mixed-length sentences are a very good thing.  First, varying sentence lengths helps our readers pay more attention to what you are writing. If you wish to convince our readers of what you are saying, and attract them to our contents, you should make the contents easy to read. One way of doing this is by varying the lengths of sentences and paragraphs. This is a technique used by many magazine editors. Sentences and paragraphs that are all the same length--all short or all long--lead to boring reading, much like listening to the constant drone of an air conditioner. Here is an example:

CHOPPY SERIES TO BE CHANGED:

We drove to town. 
We ate at Sally's Grill.
The food was tasty.
We left Sally's by 7. 
We went to a movie.

TO LONGER, COMBINED SENTENCES:

We drove to town and ate at Sally's Grill.
The food was tasty and we left by 7.
Then we went to a Spiderman movie.

TO MIXED-LENGTH SERIES:

We drove to town and ate at Sally's Grill.
The food was tasty.
Then we left Sally's by 7 and went to a Spiderman movie.

Sometimes sentences and paragraphs all the same length even can lead to making your readers fall asleep! So unless you are trying to give your readers a nap, vary both sentence and paragraph lengths, mixing short and long as above.
     
Active vs. Passive Verbs

One particularly noticeable mark of good scholarly and professional writing is that it often uses the active verb voice and avoids the passive verb voice.  What is the difference?  In the active voice, the verb shows who is doing something:

Diana built her house.

However, in the passive verb voice, something is done.  Usually there is an extra verb ("is" or a version of it), and you can't always tell who actually "did" the action. For example,

The house was built.

The house was built by Diana.

Here are more examples:

Active vs. Passive

ACTIVE: Dr. Jane Mowers believes freedom is valuable.
PASSIVE: It is believed that freedom is valuable.

ACTIVE: Mowers said, however, that freedom has a price.
PASSIVE: It was said that freedom has a price.

ACTIVE: You can believe that she has studied the issue.
PASSIVE: It is to be believed that the issue has been studied.

As you can see from the examples, it is better to use the active voice, which is the more direct, clear, and interesting way of writing verbs.  The active voice gives credit to whomever is involved in the thought, word, or deed.  The passive voice not only doesn't easily tell us who is doing the something done, but the passive voice also often uses more words. 

However, there are exceptions.  Sometimes it is better to use the passive voice.  One major reason for this is because your professional workplace expects it: it is part of the normal style of writing everyone is expected to follow.  Another--better--reason is that sometimes you purposely do not want to give credit for action to anyone.  For example, you might write "The first step was finished at 8 am; the second step was completed by 9 am, and the third step was done by 10 am."  You might want to do this in order to avoid continual use of the word "I" so that your writing doesn't sound self-centered, or you might not know who completed each step. 

For more on the active vs. the passive voice, see the "Proposals" chapter.  However, most of the time, especially in academic writing, readers prefer the active verb voice.  

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Orderly Descriptions

Another mark of interesting and easier-to-read writing is that descriptions flow in an orderly fashion. For example, if you are describing a room, you should sweep through the room from left to right or right to left in an orderly manner, step by step, rather than describe something here, something over there, and something here again, hopping around in a haphazard fashion. Compare these two versions:

Unordered vs. Ordered

NOT ORDERED: The yard was filled with the kinds of objects that he liked to purchase at country sales.  A big old plough share--the smooth, shiny, cutting plate on a plough--was there.  A door of an outhouse with a moon cut into it also was there.  He also saw a small trap for capturing rabbits, a big bow-shaped saw, and three really old Christmas ornaments made of thin, colored glass.

ORDERED USING A THREE-DIMENSIONAL PICTURE: The big old farmyard was filled as far as the eye could see with the kinds of objects that he liked to purchase at country sales.  They spread between two fences on the left and right, and from the driveway where he stood to the front of the house, with some lying on the ground and others against the fences or the front of the house.  Leaning against the fence on the left, he spotted a big old plough share--the smooth, shiny, cutting plate on a plough. 

He scanned a little to the right and, against the front of the house was an outhouse door with a moon cut into it.  On the grass in front of it, lying flat, was a small trap for capturing rabbits, and beside it a big bow-shaped saw.  He scanned the whole yard further until his eyes lit on the right-hand fence.  There, hanging from part of the fence, were three really old christmas ornaments made of thin, colored glass.

The second version, though longer, is so much easier to read and understand because it places the objects in a three-dimensional view with a left-to-right organizational order.  Whether you are describing a picture like this, a series of events, a visual or graphic image, or anything else that has a number of items or elements, find a way to provide an easy-to-understand order or other organizational pattern to help your readers. 
                 

Standard English vs. Slang

Another important element of revising your use of language is to not use slang.  Scholarly and professional writing avoids it.  Almost everyone grows up using some form of slang--highly informal words or phrases typical of a limited region of the country or type of interest group on television or elsewhere.  Slang can vary culturally, geographically, and historically in a variety of phrases: for example, "Yo," "Dude," to "'rassling a critter," "say, matey," or "Like for sure, no way--that's so rad!"

English is one of the hardest languages in the world to master for non-native speakers to master, partly because there is so much slang and so many idioms (words or phrases that don't follow the regular rules of grammar, like "He's just not that into you").  Slang is not inferior to Standard English (formal English), just different. It is neither bad nor good.  However, it can get in the way of communicating effectively and easily to larger audiences or to people from different areas or cultures.  This is why Standard English is expected in formal scholarly--college--and professional writing.  Don't give up your slang if you like it; but use Standard English when writing formal papers.
  
     

Transitions as Words and Paragraph Bridges

First, what are transitions?  They are phrases and words that create a bridge or signal a direction, often at the beginning of a sentence, or at the beginning or end of a paragraph or body section.

Here are some typical transition words & phrases.  They are primarily used
for starting sentences, or in starting or ending paragraphs or sections.

Transitions (12-'04)

ORGANIZATION: First, Second, Third, A first reason, a second reason, a third reason, One major reason, In addition, One more, Another, Next, A related issue is, One important idea is, Finally, In conclusion, In the end,  

SIMILARITY: Another, Furthermore, Related to this is, In comparing, In addition, As stated above, This is similar to, Like this, This is like, Add to this the idea that, Considering that, In the end, To summarize, According to, The preceding, The following, As part of this, Also there is,  

RESULT: Because of this, As a result, Therefore, It follows that, Why is this so?, What is the reason?, Add to this the idea that, Considering that, Before/after this, In the first place, In the end

DIFFERENCE: However, Yet, …but, In spite of this, Unlike this, Opposing this is, To differentiate, In contrast, By comparison, This is different from, This is not the, In disagreement with this, On the one hand…on the other, neither…nor, Before/after this, Though it is, In the unlikely event that, Originally, At one time…but now,

POSITION: One position/view/viewpoint is, Some people believe/argue/think/suggest, Others believe, Another/different/ opposing/alternative view is that, This viewpoint suggests/ implies/shows/leads to, Such advocates, One such belief is, An opposing belief is,

QUOTATIONS, BEFORE: X says/states/asks/argues, According to X, X is right/wrong when he says, X says, however, X disagrees/ opposes this by saying, In contrast, X says, X opposes this by saying, X argues the opposite:  AFTER: X means, This means, X’s point is, In summary, This point shows/proves/demonstrates/suggests, implies/leads to/is the same as/ties in with, (See also “SIMILARITY,” “RESULT,” and “DIFFERENCE” above.)  

There are hundreds of transition words and phrases and even transition sentences.  You don't need to use them or even worry about them in your early drafting of a paper or speech.  However, they are of vital importance in the final draft, and they can help you better develop your own thinking in middle drafting.

Where do you add transitions? Sometimes they are placed within sentences to show a shift of thought, comparison, or contrast: for example, "Shakespeare's language was highly poetic; however, his characters could be very earthy." Sometimes they are placed at the beginning of a new sentence to show a shift from the previous sentence. For example, "The particle theory of physics suggests that light travels as particles. On the other hand, the wave theory of physics suggests that light travels in water-like waves." These two sentences also exemplify another form of transition: the use of repetition to show that two similar ideas are being compared or contrasted. In this case, the phrase "_____ theory of physics suggests that light travels" shows that two ideas are being contrasted."

There are two purposes to transitions, and both have to do with your thinking.  As you write, you are placing your thoughts on paper.  In a final draft, these thoughts are organized in sentences and paragraphs.  Often, each paragraph is a long complete thought.  In addition, within a paragraph, a long sentence or a group of several sentences together is a short complete thought.  Each paragraph--and sometimes a sentence or a group of sentences--is its own island sitting on your page.  Transitions are the tool that connects them.  Transitions act as bridges that enable your audience to cross easily from island to island.  They tell your audience how to leave the previous island and where to go to most easily step onto the next island. 

If it weren't for such bridges, your audience would have to wade or swim from island to island, not quite sure what the previous island meant nor where to find a foothold or good landing point on the next one.  In addition, these bridges help you better formulate your own thinking to make sure that it is logical and consistent.  If you cannot add a bridge between two paragraphs, your thinking may not be logical, or you may need to add an additional paragraph or two of explanation.  For this reason, adding transitions not only does your audience a very important favor; it also helps you discover where the missing steps and, sometimes, the weaknesses are in your own thinking process.

Often transitions are placed at the beginning of a new paragraph (or the end of the previous one) to show which direction you are taking the reader as you move into the new paragraph.  One of the best ways to add transitions is to always be sure that the first sentence of a new paragraph answers two questions: 

Two Questions for Creating a Transition

Who or what?  Who or what is the subject of the new paragraph?

Why or how?  Why or how is the person/event/object tied in with the previous paragraph?

If you answer these two questions, you are not only providing a transition or bridge between two paragraphs (or between two topic sections).  You also are providing a topic sentence for your paragraph.  Observe how the answers to these two questions help form the first sentence of each of these two paragraphs and create a topic sentence for each:

Two Paragraphs with "Bridging" Topic Sentences

            In the 1800s, early urban studies of how people organize cities suggested that people preferred orderly designs. For this reason, many planned cities or added subdivisions in the 1800s through the first part of the 1900s were organized on perfectly arranged grids of squares or rectangles with all streets facing north-south and east-west. Such designs were practical and efficient.

            In the 1900s, however, urban studies of city organization began suggesting that people preferred living on streets with nooks and crannies, dead ends, and varying sizes of blocks. This preference led to the rise of many suburban developments--and some planned cities--with planned streets that were circles, loops, curves, and other shapes that gave people living on them a greater feeling of individuality and difference. Such designs, while not always practical, were more interesting and enjoyable.

Actually, there are several kinds of transitions used in these two paragraphs. Each is highlighted in some way below. Some are repetitions of key words or phrases; others show a change, comparison, or contrast. To discover some of them, you will need to read--and then compare and contrast--both paragraphs.  See if you can pick them out and identify what they are doing:

Same Two Paragraphs with Transitions Marked

            In the 1800s, early urban studies of how people organize cities suggested that people preferred orderly designs. For this reason, many planned cities or added subdivisions in the 1800s through the first part of the 1900s were organized on perfectly arranged grids of squares or rectangles with all streets facing north-south and east-west. Such designs were practical and efficient.

            In the 1900s, however, urban studies of city organization began suggesting that people preferred living on streets with nooks and crannies, dead ends, and varying sizes of blocks. This preference led to the rise of many suburban developments--and some planned cities--with planned streets that were circles, loops, curves, and other shapes that gave people living on them a greater feeling of individuality and difference. Such designs, while not always practical, were more interesting and enjoyable. 

Adding parallel phrases and words like this may take some time if you have written your early drafts differently.  However, by adding such bridges, you not only are checking your own thinking to see if it is logical; you also are making your writing (and--if you are giving a speech--your talking) much clearer to your audience.
    

Conclusion

With these five simple revising techniques--fixing or using

Mixed-Length Sentences
Active vs. Passive Verbs
Orderly Descriptions
Standard English vs. Slang
Transitions

--you can dramatically increase the quality of your style and the clarity of your content.  The difference can be like night and day.  Try them yourself.  The more you use them in revising, the more--as with many revision techniques--you'll find yourself using them almost automatically as you write first drafts.  And the more your writing will not only be read but taken quite seriously and even enjoyed by others.

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Return to top.

                 

                        

         

C. Revise/Edit
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Click on any chapter below:

Chapters:

14. What Is "Revising"?

15. Peacock Sentences

16. Peacock Punctuation

17. Punctuation Review

18. 5 Special Methods

19. Typing/Printing

20Revision Checklist

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Additional:

Activities
                         

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 Related Links in
OnlineGrammar.org:

  5. Choosing Words

  6. Making Sentences

  8. General Editing

  9. Spelling

10. Punctuation

11. Grammar Guides

13. Help for ESL/NNS

15. Writing Books & Tutors

19. Visual/Other Design                

 

Updated 1 Aug. 2013

  

   

 

WritingforCollege.org also is at CollegeWriting.info and WforC.org

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1st through 5th Editions:: Writing for School & Work, 1984-1998; CollegeWriting.info, 1998-2012.
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