During my college years (1974-76) a young professor gave me these simple steps to help students revise their compositions. The steps give the students a concrete action plan that can be repeated and understood. Many of my students have improved their writing skills through these simple revisions. The steps then become reminders of what a good writer does.
1. Find the first word of each sentence and write it in the left margin of the paper.
a. This helps you count the number of sentences in your paragraph – You should have at least 3 to 5 sentences that are related in a good paragraph.
b. This allows you to quickly find out if you are varying the first words of your sentences. It also tells you if you have run-on sentences.
2. Put a circle around all “Ands” that you have written.
a. The “and” indicates that you are writing a list, compound subjects, or compound predicates (verbs). Do not put “and” between two sentences that would better be combined to make an excellent complex sentence. I went to work and then I came home - BORING… Make it something more exciting such as:
“After a long grueling day at the office, the thought of sitting in my recliner reading a book sounded fabulous.”
b. Change the “ands” to another conjunction; separate the two thoughts with a period and a new sentence; or simply add an appropriate transitional word.
3. Underline the use of the verb “to be.” Iit is hidden in the forms of its conjugation: am, is, are, was, were, be being, and been.
a. Many times the use or overuse of this verb indicates a use of passive voice rather than active voice. Ex.: The ball was hit by the boy. This sentence is “passive.” The ball didn’t do the action; the boy did the action. Therefore, we should write – The boy hit the ball.
b. Too many “is” in a series of sentences means that the writer has used short, choppy statements that could be combined into a longer more meaningful complex sentence. Ex: My name is Jose. I am from Mexico, I am living in Winnemucca. When you could write, “After living in Mexico for 10 years, I have moved to Winnemucca.”
4. Avoid repetition of words that seem to pop up frequently in your writing. Try to use a variety of words.
a. You notice that all of your sentences start with the word “I.” Then you need to go back and change the sentence to eliminate that word.
b. Go to a Thesaurus or stretch your mind to think of another way to express what you want to say.
5. Make your adjectives (descriptive words) and adverbs (position or degree of use) words colorful and exciting that paint a mental picture for the reader.
a. Go over your writing and look for overly used words such as good, bad, or nice and try to think of a more descriptive or colorful way to express that thought. I did bad on my assignment – could read “I bombed the test again.” That is much more specific and tells a better story.
b. The word “very” can be changed to many other words such as extremely, highly, overly, wonderfully, truly, etc. There are many words in the English language from which to choose. Look for a new one to learn!
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