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Revising for Cohesion

Summary:

Proofreading is primarily about searching your writing for errors, both grammatical and typographical, before submitting your paper for an audience (a teacher, a publisher, etc.). Use this resource to help you find and fix common errors.

Contributors:Jaclyn M. Wells, Morgan Sousa, and Mia Martini, Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2013-03-01 10:18:52

This material (adapted from Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace, by Joseph Williams) will help students revise sentences for cohesion.

Two principles

Exercise: Diagnosis, Analysis, Revision

Diagnosis

  1. Underline the first few words of every sentence in a paragraph, ignoring short introductory phrases such as "In the beginning," or "For the most part."
  2. If you can, underline the first few words of every clause.

Analysis

  1. Read your underlined words. Is there a consistent series of related topics?
  2. Will your reader see these connections among the topics?
  3. Decide what you will focus on in each paragraph.
  4. Imagine that the passage has a title. The words in the title should identify what should be the topics of most of the sentences.

Revision

  1. In most sentences, make the topics the subject of verbs.
  2. Put most of the subjects at the beginning of your sentences. Avoid hiding your topic by opening sentences with long introductory clauses or phrases.

Sample Passage

Topics are crucial for readers because readers depend on topics to focus their attention on particular ideas toward the beginning of sentences. Topics tell readers what a whole passage is "about." If readers feel that a sequence of topics is coherent, then they will feel they are moving through a paragraph from a cumulatively coherent point of view. But if throughout the paragraph readers feel that its topics shift randomly, then they have to begin each sentence out of context, from no coherent point of view. When that happens, readers feel dislocated, disoriented, and out of focus.

Questions to ask yourself as you revise

Sentences

Do your sentences "hang together"?

  1. Readers must feel that they move easily from one sentence to the next, that each sentence "coheres" with the one before and after it.
  2. Readers must feel that sentences in a paragraph are not just individually clear, but are unified with each other.

Does the sentence begin with information familiar to the reader?

Does the sentence end with interesting information the reader would not anticipate?

Paragraphs

Will your reader be able to identify quickly the "topic" of each paragraph?

Note: it is easier to see coherence and clarity in other people's writing. Why? Because by the time we reach a final draft, everything we write seems old to us. Improving on this takes practice.

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