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Revising

9.4.5 Body Paragraphs

As you build support for your thesis in the “body” paragraphs, always ask yourself if you are spending your readers’ time wisely. Are you writing unnecessarily complex and confusing sentences, or using 50 words when 5 would do? If a sentence is already plain and direct, there’s no need to fluff it up. Flowery words and phrases obscure your ideas: when writing, being concise is key. For example, why write, “Cats have a tendency toward sleeping most of the day” when you could simply write, “Cats usually sleep most of the day”? How about changing “The 12th day of the month of April” to “April 12th?” Try to pick out such sentences and substitute simpler ones.

But wait–don’t you need to inflate your text so you can meet the minimum word count?

Wouldn’t it be better to use “due to the fact that” for “because” and “in addition to” for “and,” since these phrases use far more words? Answer: NO. Any experienced reader will instantly see through such a pitiful scheme and will likely become irritated by the resulting “flabby” prose. If you are having trouble meeting the minimum word count, a far better solution is to add more examples, details, quotations, or perspectives. Go back to the planning and drafting stage and really ask yourself if you’ve written everything useful about a topic.

Other students worry that their sentences don’t sound smart enough. Compare these two sentences:

  • Do not ask what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.
  • Do not submit a query concerning what assets and benefits your country can bestow upon you and yours, but rather inquire as to what tasks or activities you yourself can perform and carry out that will be useful for the citizens of your own country.

Although the second sentence is longer and harder to grasp, that doesn’t make it more intelligent. In fact, it’s far more impressive to write a complex thought in simple prose than vice versa.

How about your organization? From sentence-to-sentence, paragraph-to-paragraph, the ideas should flow into each other smoothly and without interruptions or delays. If someone tells you that your paper sounds “choppy” or “jumps around,” you probably have a problem with organization and transitions.

License

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Expression and Inquiry by Chris Manning, Sally Pierce, and Melissa Lucken is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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