Revision Prompts


You are done with your paper–but you know, deep down, that it could be better. While I fully believe there is a time to simply press the print button and go walk the dog, it never hurts to run your paper through a few revision prompts–a series of relatively simple tasks that will help you improve your paper stylistically and structurally without overhauling the whole thing.

  • Mark All unique / innovative sentence patterns (sophisticated use of em dashes, apt uses of the semicolon, other intentionally elegant sentence structure, etc.).  If you don’t have find at least four such sentences in your paper, make sure you do for your final draft.
  •  Identify your the weakest transition between paragraphs; make it your strongest.
  • Find every moment in your paper where at least three sentences in a row that begin with a noun and that replicate a simple and static sentence pattern. Work on varying the pace and structure of these sentences.
  • Locate any paragraph where you have at least 6 “to be” verbs (is, are, were, etc).  Reduce the use of such linking verbs by at least half by introducing more specific, vivid verbal energy and converting present participles, to simple present verb forms where fitting (e.g. “runs” instead of “is running”).
  • Change at least two passive verb forms to active verb forms (unless the passive serves an intentional purpose).
  • Identify a quote that could use more effective framing, whether than involves setting up the quote or source more thoroughly, introducing a signal phrase, or following up more dynamically.
  • Identify your weakest sentence.  It can be the most convoluted, most unclear, the most lacking in verbal energy, or the most repetitive.  Rewrite it and make it strong.
  • Find a sentence with at least three prepositional phrases in a row and rewrite the sentence to avoid this pattern.  Strings of  prepositional phrases in your papers on top of other bad things in them tend to sap the energy from otherwise great writing. It’s all about concision!
  • Identify your best sentence. This should be a sentence that makes you proud every time you read it. I wish you many more like it. As I like to tell my students, you’ve never truly loved until you’ve loved one of your own sentences!

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