Revising the Body of Your Essay Study Guide (page 2)
Revising the Body of Your Essay
Detail makes the difference between boring and terrific writing. It's the difference between a pencil sketch and a lush oil painting. As a writer, words are your paint. Use all the colors. - RHYS ALEXANDER (1978– ) AMERICAN BLOG WRITER
Think of the body of your essay as the meat-and-potatoes of your work. This lesson provides a review of the steps you need to take to revise the body of your essay and make it as strong and nutritious as possible.
In the previous two lessons, Evaluating Your Thesis Statement Study Guide and Evaluating Your Supporting Paragraphs Study Guide, you learned how to take a careful and objective look at your rough draft to check it for big-picture issues. You saw how to analyze carefully the strength and clarity of your thesis statement, and then how to do a similar examination of the essay's supporting paragraphs. In this lesson, you'll learn how to examine your draft minutely to check for the smaller revisions it may need, the all-important details that distinguish effective writing.
Is Your Essay Well Organized?
This is the first big question you should ask about the body of your essay. Presumably you have stated and developed the thesis statement in the first one or two paragraphs of your essay. The body of your essay, all those paragraphs that follow the introduction, are now in need of close inspection. Ask yourself these questions:
- Does the essay flow logically?
- Is it easy for the reader to follow along and see where your argument is going?
- Have you chosen the right organizational principle for your essay?
If you answered no to any of these questions, you need to do some serious revisions on the body of your essay. Begin by analyzing whether or not you've chosen the best organizational principle for the essay.
Common Organizational Principles
|1.||Chronological organization. This is the organizational system used frequently in narrative essays. When you are telling a story, the natural way to organize is to begin at the beginning. You might also use this principle if you are writing about a historical event, or even one that happened last week. Describing an event from its beginning to its end is commonly found, for example, in newspaper articles.|
|2.||Cause and effect. This simple structure is applicable in a lot of essays that seek to describe why something has happened. For example, you might be writing about the gradual disappearance in your school of foreign language classes, and organizing by cause and effect might be the way to trace the development of this situation. You might also use this organizing principle for an essay about some aspect of global warming.|
|3.||Analysis or classification. What if you are assigned an essay about all the survival mechanisms desert animals have? Or what if you were writing about the various breeds of dogs and how they compare in competitions? You might use a classification system to organize an essay that describes many categories of things.|
|4.||Comparison and contrast. This organizing principle is similar to analysis or classification. For example, if you are asked to discuss the nutritional value of French fries and vegetables, you are likely to compare and contrast them.|
|5.||Spatial order or order of importance. Typical in-class writing assignments might ask you to describe the contents of your locker, or the layout of the classroom. For each of these assignments, it might be best to start describing things at the top (or the left or the right) and move around the objects or place you are describing. In an essay about the system of checks-and-balances in the federal government, you might want to start by describing the presidency, and then work your way down to the two houses of the Congress. If you are writing an analytic essay about a painting, you might devote several paragraphs to a description of what you actually see in the painting, by organizing your description spatially, from left to right or top to bottom.|
How To Revise Your Organizational System
You may not have consciously chosen one of these organizational principles when you planned and wrote your first draft, but it is likely that one or more of them is evident in your essay. (Go back to Lesson 15 to review organizational strategies in detail if you're not sure which one you've used.) At the revision stage, you must evaluate the choice you made by deciding if the organization of your paragraphs is effective and if it was the best choice you could have made.
For example, imagine that you are writing about cats and dogs as pets, and you decided to write about them in a point-by-point, classification way. You wrote about how they both make good pets, both have four feet, both live happily in families of humans, and so on. Now you read over your essay and it feels obvious, flat, and boring. Maybe a different organizational strategy would improve it. What if you decided to write a comparison-contrast essay about the behavior of cats and dogs? You could easily inject some lively humor and a strong point of view (your preference for one or the other) into such an essay, and still fulfill the original assignment to write about cats and dogs as pets. Or perhaps you could reorganize and write a comparison of cats and dogs to gold-fish? Then you could really have fun.
Deciding how to change your organizational principle can be a difficult task. If you feel stuck and can't figure out what to do, carefully inspect the individual paragraphs. Often by analyzing several of your individual paragraphs, and seeing necessary revisions to them, you'll come up with a better idea of how to reorganize the essay as a whole. And sometimes all you'll really need to do is rearrange the order of your paragraphs in order to smooth out its flow.
The organizational principle is the glue that holds the essay together. Make sure your glue is holding tight at all points and that no paragraph has come unstuck and is dangling out on its own somewhere.
Revising Individual Paragraphs
Think of each paragraph as a mini-essay, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Take a good hard look at each paragraph to see if it has the following elements and performs the appropriate functions.
- Each paragraph should contain one controlling idea. Usually this idea appears in a topic sentence at the beginning or the end of the paragraph. All the additional sentences in the paragraph should relate to this one main idea. If you find sentences that do not relate to the paragraph's main idea, move them out!
- Each paragraph should develop its controlling idea sufficiently. The topic sentence of your paragraph, even if it comes at the end of your paragraph, requires support. If you find paragraphs of only one or two sentences, you have probably not developed the paragraph's idea in enough detail.
- Each paragraph should be directly related to the thesis of the entire essay. Too often writers stray from their original outline and write paragraphs on subjects that do not support the thesis statement. If you find a paragraph like this, cross it out!
- Each paragraph should contribute to the development of the thesis statement. Effective essays create a progression of thoughts that culminate in a strong conclusion. Think of your essay as a rolling snowball: It should get bigger and stronger the further along it goes. If it doesn't, you haven't organized well.
- Each paragraph follows the previous one with logical transitions. You may need only a word or two to create the transition between paragraphs, or you may need a sentence or two. Whatever you do, do not rely on trite transitions like in summary, or on the other hand, or in conclusion. Skilled writers can do better than that.
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