This post is part of a series on Writing Pedagogy.
This post focuses on revision, the stage of the writing process in which we think about ideas and organization, and also a stage of the writing process that my undergraduate students resist engaging in. (A discussion for another post!)
These strategies can be used in conjunction with one another or separately.
Are your paragraphs actually paragraphs?
Check that each paragraph is about ONE topic, identified near the beginning of the paragraph.
- Check that each paragraph includes new, important, interesting information about that topic. Information might be a quote/paraphrase from a source or a passage of text or a piece of data or a trend in the data.
- Check that you have explained what that new information means or how it connects to other things in the project or why it matters
(NB: Of course accomplished writers produce paragraphs that don’t fit this structure. But this structure can help a struggling writer wrestle their ideas into coherent units.)
Are your paragraphs logically connected to one another in the best order?
- Sum up each paragraph with a single word or brief phrase in the margin. (This step is easier if you’ve done activity 1 above, but this activity can also stand alone.)
- Looking only at the words in the margin figure out how each paragraph relates to the one after it. Only look at two paragraphs at a time (1-2, 2-3, 3-4, etc.). Common relationships include opposition, next idea in a process or sequence, move to larger category, move to smaller category, lateral move to another equal example. For example, if the words in the margin are knitting and crochet, the relationship might be that these are two equal examples of ways to make things with yarn.
- In the space between each pair of paragraphs, write a transition sentence that a) names the topic above it, b) names the topic below it, and c) names the relationship between them. For example to get from a paragraph about knitting to a paragraph about crochet: In contrast to knitting’s use of two or more needles to produce fabric in rows or rounds, crochet uses a single hook and can be worked in a more free-form manner.
- Decide whether the transition sentence fits better at the end of the paragraph above it or the beginning of the paragraph below it.
- If you can’t write a logical transition sentence, then something is missing or something is not in the best order. Ask a second pair of eyes for help before despairing.Activity 2 can be scaled up to think about transitions among sections and among chapters.
3) Does your thesis match your body?
- A good thesis statement does three things. It a) names the topic, b) makes an argument or takes a stand, and c) offers a roadmap of how the body of the text will be organized.
- Reread your thesis statement.
- Check that the roadmap laid out in the thesis matched the sections of the body.
- Check that the argument or stance in the thesis is the same argument or stance you are supporting thought the body.
- It’s normal for the writer’s plan to develop and change over the course of writing. If there’s a mismatch between body and thesis, you have two basic choices: 1) add or remove information and ideas in the body to bring it back into line with the initial plan OR 2) change the thesis to match the body you’ve already written.
Notes and Resources
*This T-I-E structure is widely attested in writing pedagogy literature, particularly in resources about the five-paragraph essay. A helpful website is the PIE (point rather than topic) explanation from Asford Writing.