Revising Paragraphs Help (page 2)
This lesson on the revision process shows you how to revise paragraphs for more effective organization and transitions. You'll also learn how to strengthen individual paragraphs.
The next step in re-visioning looks at your essay with a stronger lens, examining it at the paragraph level. The first question to ask about paragraphs is also a "big picture" question:
- Are you paragraphs in a logical and effective order?
- Does each paragraph have only one controlling idea?
- Are there effective transitions between ideas?
- Do special paragraphs fulfill their functions?
Once you've addressed this question, you can look at each paragraph individually with the following questions in mind:
Checking Your Organization
If your ideas don't flow logically, they'll be difficult for your reader to follow.Make sure those ideas are placed within the essay in order in which they make sense. Seven organizing principles were discussed in Lessons 6 and 7:
- cause and effect
- spatial order
- order of importance
- comparison and contrast
- problem → solution
As you read your paragraphs checking for organization, consider the following questions:
- What organizing principle holds the essay together? One overlying organizing principle should be clear. If you can't identify one, look carefully at how you presented your ideas. If you haven't used an organizing strategy, chances are your essay will feel disjointed to readers. Think about which strategy makes the most sense for your subject and purpose.
- Is this the most effective organization for your subject and purpose? Once you've identified your organizing principle, consider whether it's the best one for your essay. For example, if you've used the block technique for a comparison and contrast essay, you might consider whether the point-by-point method would work better instead.
- Do any paragraphs or sections disrupt this organizational pattern? If there is a break in your organizational structure, it should not only be intentional, but also serve a legitimate purpose. Perhaps you decided to keep the block comparison and contrast. In one section, though, you slip into the point-by-point mode and compare two items directly. Unless there is a solid reason for the inconsistency, such as making sure that those two items stand out as more significant than the others being compared, change that section to the block technique. Consistency makes your essay easier to read and understand.
Revising Individual Paragraphs
To check the paragraphs that make up your essay, you'll need to examine your writing with a stronger lens than the one you used to for "big-picture" issues. You will be determining whether each paragraph has just one main idea, whether there are adequate transitions between paragraphs, and if your introductory and concluding paragraphs fulfill their distinct purposes.
One Controlling Idea
A paragraph is a group of sentences about one idea. That idea should be stated in a topic sentence, which is typically the first or last line. Topic sentences not only guide your reader, but they also link the sentences in the paragraph together by stating the idea that they all relate to. If you can't locate a topic sentence, should the main idea be stated in one, instead of implied by your examples?
If there is a topic sentence, does each sentence relate to it? In the lying with silence essay, each paragraph contains only one main idea except for the sixth paragraph. Here, the writer describes the lie and its consequences in one paragraph. It would be more effective to dedicate another paragraph to the consequences. The revised paragraphing then looks like this (topic sentences are in bold):
I'm guilty of silent deceptions, too. Last year, I discovered that my friend's boyfriend was seeing someone else. I kept quiet about it because I didn't want to hurt my friend. A few weeks, later, someone else told her about the wo-timing—and I told her I knew about it.
She couldn't believe that I deceived her like that. She felt just as betrayed as if I'd lied to her face about it. Her boyfriend's deception ruined their relationship. My deception destroyed our friendship.
If you've identified more than one idea in a paragraph, you should probably break it into two paragraphs. But before you move text, make sure each idea is clearly related to the thesis. If it's not, it needs to be reworked or deleted. (If you didn't catch it when you were revising the big picture, here's another chance.) Remember the importance of maintaining focus in your essay—unrelated paragraphs not only get you off track, but also often confuse readers as well.
Once you've identified the controlling idea of each paragraph, check to see that each idea is sufficiently developed. Topic sentences, like thesis statements, make assertions about your subject. And those assertions need support. Look carefully at any paragraph that consists of only one or two sentences. Chances are, they're seriously underdeveloped. The only time you should have a one-sentence paragraph is when you intentionally decide to emphasize the idea in that sentence.
Transitions are the words and phrases used to move from one idea to the next. They help your words flow smoothly and show readers how your ideas relate to each other. In shorter essays, a phrase is usually enough to transition from one paragraph to the next. In longer essays, a sentence or two may be required to guide your reader to the next idea.
In the lying with silence essay, notice how the writer uses transitions to move from one paragraph to another. The first sentence of the sixth paragraph, "I'm guilty of silent deceptions, too" connects the previous example (the man who bought a stolen necklace for his girlfriend) to the next example, the writer's own silent lie. Then, the beginning of the second sentence uses the transitional phrase for example to lead readers into the support for that paragraph. In addition, the phrase a few weeks later provides a transition in the middle of the paragraph, connecting the writer's decision to keep silent with her friend's discovery of the deception.
To demonstrate how important transitions are, here's the fourth paragraph of the essay with transitions removed and then repeated with transitions intact (and underlined):
These silent lies can have consequences. A man who buys a stolen necklace for his girlfriend could lose her trust, which could be detrimental to the relationship. He could also face criminal charges. Even she could be in trouble for possession of a stolen necklace.
These silent lies can have consequences. For example, a man who buys a stolen necklace for his girlfriend could lose her trust, which could be detrimental to the relationship. More importantly, he could also face criminal charges. In addition, even she could be in trouble for possession of a stolen necklace.
Introductions and Conclusions
Both of these paragraphs must fulfill specific duties within the essay. While you're revising, you'll need to look closely at them to make certain they function properly.
- As you reread your introduction, ask:
- Does it provide the context needed to understand my thesis?
- Does it clearly state the main point of my essay?
- Does it set the tone for the essay?
- Does it grab my reader's interest?
Notice how the introduction to lying with silence accomplishes each of these four tasks. It provides context by quoting Adrienne Rich's claim about silent deceptions. It clearly states the thesis in the last two sentences. It also sets the tone by using words like deceives and devastating, which will be repeated in the essay. In addition, it grabs the audience's attention by beginning with a thought-provoking question.
- As you reread your conclusion, ask:
- Does it restate my thesis in a new way?
- Does it offer a new understanding?
- Does it provide a sense of closure?
- Does it arouse my reader's emotions?
While the lying with silence essay does a good job with the introduction, its conclusion needs work. Notice how it simply restates the thesis instead of putting it in different words. It does offer a new understanding, but goes too far by introducing a contentious new issue instead of providing a sense of closure.
To revise on the paragraph level, first check for your overall organizing principle. How have you arranged your paragraphs? Is this the most effective organizing strategy for your essay? Then check individual paragraphs to make sure they have only one relevant and fully developed idea. Next, check for transitions both between and within paragraphs. Finally, check to see that your introduction and conclusion fulfill their important functions.
Exercises for this concept can be found at Revising Paragraphs Practice.
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