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Improve your paragraphs by varying the complexity of your sentences

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1

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In this module you will:

learn about how to revise your argument through re-outlining,

learn how to improve your paragraphs by varying the complexity of your sentences,

learn how to eliminate wordiness

review where the passive voice is appropriate,

reflect on your word choice

practise proofreading your text for punctuation.

Module 15: Revising academic writing

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2a Intro

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Many students think of writing as a process that ends when they take the last sheet of paper out of the printer. This is not entirely true. Good writers make thorough, and, when necessary, radical revisions. There are three steps to be carried when revising your paper:

Reoutlining, that is re-examining the structure of your argument

Re-examining thestyle of your prose

Proofreading, that is checking the check the correctness of your paper

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2b Reoutlining

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Reoutlining

You may have begun your project with an outline. Re-outlining, that is, writing an outline on the basis of what you have written, helps you see if you have achieved your goal. Compare your two outlines, and ask yourself the following questions:

Have I made the thesis or focus clear? Are the ideas and details arranged in the most effective order?

Have I divided the text into appropriate segments? Have I made clear the connections between the segments?

Do I use appropriate cohesive markers to relay the connection of thoughts?

Do I have sufficient support, sufficient evidence for my assertions? Do I have any irrelevant information?

Do I need to rewrite my introduction or conclusion?

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2c – Removing tangents

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Removing tangents

Every sentence in your paper should advance your argument, whether by presenting your thesis, introducing subsidiary points, explaining logical relationships between points, presenting and explaining textual evidence, or drawing conclusions.

In other words, if you elaborate on an interesting idea, which does not, however, directly advance your argument, you are going off on a tangent. Tangents may be acceptable in some forms of informal writing, e.g. letters, but they are inacceptable in academic English. Here, arguments have to be linear. Anything else is a filler and should be removed. For example, in a paper on Shakespeare’s imagery, you would not include biographical information about his family, unless this information is directly and clearly related to your argument about Shakespeare’s imagery.

Exercise name:

3 Removing tangents

Exercise type

MC V1

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Embedded Pop-up text included. See next page!

Instruction

Click on “Read Text” to view the results of a history student’s re-outlining of a paper on the origins of the World War One. Then, decide which entries below are tangents to the student’s thesis.

[C] Plato’s political theories

[] Bank failures in Germany

[] French democracy vs German autocracy

[C] Economic repercussions of World War I

[] Naval race between Great Britain and German

[C] Pre-War European Art

Embedded Pop-Up Text to 3

Outline:

History dissertation proposal – The Origins of World War I

I Introduction

Thesis: World War I was started by a number of factors which had their origin in the natural rivalries between the European countries

II Economic rivalries

A. Grain tariffs in Germany and France

B. Economic repercussions of World War One

III Political rivalries

A. French Democracy vs German autocracy

B. Plato’s political theories

IV Military rivalries

A. The “naval race” between Great Britain and Germany

B. Triple Entente vs. Triple Alliance

V Pre-War European Art

A. Impressionism

B. Expressionism

VI Conclusion – war was inevitable

Exercise name:

4a – Re-examining at the sentence level

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The overall structure of your paper is very important. So, too, is the organization at the sentence level. As you become an experienced writer, the more you will develop your own prose style, your own distinctive patterns of sentence length and structure. While you are developing your style, remember that there are two bad habits to watch out for:

Too many simple subject-verb-object sentences in a row

Though a few such sentences can be useful to punctuate longer ones, long strings of them tend to sound unintelligent. If you spot a long sequence of simple, short sentences, try to link sentences together by relating their ideas to one another.

Spaghetti sentences

At the opposite extreme, some writers write overly long and complex sentences in the belief that this is a convention of academic writing. A few very long sentences can be effective in an argument. However, if most of your prose is made up of very long sentences – even if they are carefully structured – your argument will be weakened.

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4b – Using the active voice over the passive voice

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Using the active voice over the passive voice

Study the two sentences below. Which sentence do you find to be clearer?

Passive: The survey was returned by the subjects by email.

Active: The subjects returned to survey by email.

Most readers would prefer the second sentence as sentences written in the active voice are generally easier to understand. This is because the actor and the action are clearer. This does not mean that one should avoid writing in the passive voice entirely. The passive important when putting an emphasis on the object in a sentence or in situations where the subject is not known. For example:

The subjects were observed over an eight year period.

The test dogs were given three large doses of the chemical.

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4c – Avoiding impersonal “it”

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Good writers avoid sentences with phrases that begin with “it”. Instead, they attempt to clarify the action and focus on actors and actions. Phrases like “It is suggested” or “It may be recalled”can often be deleted in favour of the known subject. For example:

In the report it is suggested that good nutrition is the key to happiness

BETTER: The report suggests that good nutrition is the key to happiness

It may be recalled that this topic is discussed in Chapter 2 in greater detail.

BETTER: Chapter 2 discusses this topic in greater detail.

Stopped here – need to replace an exercise

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5 – Sentence structure extremes

Exercise type

MC V1

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Instruction

[] Paragraph contains too many short sentences.

[] Paragraph two has too many spaghetti sentences.

[C] The first sentence of paragraph 1 would be better as: “As a result of the Prime Minister’s remarks, the audience, composed exclusively of diplomats, believe that this government’s position would be similar to that of its predecessor …”

[C] The first sentence of paragraph 2 would be better as: A greenhouse is a building made out of glass where plants grows.

[C] The last sentence of paragraph 1 would be better as: “The Prime Minister failed to understand the gravity of the situation. He acted as if this problem could simply be ignored….”

[C] The last two sentence of paragraph 2 could be better if combined to “The retained radiation heats the earth’s atmosphere and keeps the planet warm.”

Not a very challenging exercise, since all of the reformulated sentences are supposed to be better.

Rollover Text 1

Impressions formed from the remarks of the Prime Minister, difficult enough as they were to understand, only confirmed the audience, which was composed exclusively of members of the diplomatic corps, in its belief that the government, which had only been in office for a short while, would not take a stance differing from that of the previous administration, which most of the diplomats found depressing, although they had not liked the previous government. The Prime Minster, however, failing to grasp the gravity of the situation, acted as if this problem, which will certainly accompany his administration for the duration of its term, could simply be ignored.

Rollover Text 2

A greenhouse is a building where plants grow. A greenhouse has transparent glass. The glass allows the sunlight to enter, but does not allow the heat inside to escape. The same effect occurs on the earth. The earth’s atmosphere functions like the glass. The sun’s radiation passes through the atmosphere to heat the earth’s surface. The earth’s surface then produces infrared radiation. This radiation has a longer wavelength than that of sunlight. This radiation rises into the atmosphere where gases such as carbon dioxide, prevent the infrared radiation from escaping into space. These gases are called greenhouse gases. They control how much infrared radiation escapes the atmosphere. The retained radiation heats the earth’s atmosphere. This radiation keeps the planet warm.

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6 – Passive and active sentences

Exercise type

Drag to Category

Correct answers in bold.

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Instruction

Drag the sentences where it would be appropriate to rewrite in an active form to the appropriate box (passive voice, active voice)

[The water was poured into the test tube.]

[Nuclear power plants are opposed by many voters.]

[Reductions of up to 80% in heat and mass transfer coefficients were measured.]

[In my department the advice on clear English has been disregarded.]

[In the 19th century a fundamental belief in God was taken for granted by most people.]

[A reduction in nuclear weapons was proposed by a number of states.]

[Each subject was given three injections]

[The rats were fed a protein-free diet for 21 days.]

[Appropriate use of passive voice] [Sentence should be reformulated in the active voice]

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7 – Removing impersonal “it” and “there”

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In the text written by Giddens it is said that peer pressure among teenagers can lead to violence.

[According to Giddens peer pressure among teenagers can lead to violence.

This does not mean that it should be prohibited to write about or to show pictures of the celebrities in the mass media.

[Writing about or showing pictures of celebrities in the mass media should not necessarily be prohibited.]

It is guaranteed that there is freedom of expression in Germany.

[Freedom] [of] [expression [ [is] [guaranteed] in [Germany]

It certainly seems that Shakespeare intended to suggest that Macbeth was weaker than his wife.

[S. certainly suggested that Macbeth was weaker than his wife.]

Are we allowed to design connect it exercises where you have almost twice as many options on the right-hand side than on the left? All the other exercise types don’t really work with these sentences. My first association was a missing words or text checker exericse, but that wouldn’t work here. What did Jeffrey originally want the learner to do here?

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8 – Find the actor and agent

Exercise type

Text MC (Lückentext mit DropDown)

Correct answer always bold.

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Instruction

Find the actor and action for each sentence below.

Actor Action

In several books it is described how Mahler screamed at the musicians in his orchestra. [books, Mahler, musicians] [describe, scream, play music]

It will be beneficial for the Physics Department to expand its internet facilities as more and more communication is web-based. [Physics Department, internet, web-based] [benefit, expand, communicate]

It is hoped by both parties that further delays can be avoided. [It, both parties, delay] [hope, delay, avoid]

It has been decided by the government of Great Britain that it should make an approach to the World Bank with a view to the possible granting of a loan. [Great Britain, government of Great Britain, World Bank] [decide, approach, grant]

It is now incumbent on the United Nations to focus its attention on tasks of the highest priority in order to achieve success within the parameters of its goal expectations. [The United Nations, tasks, goals] [focus, achieve, expect]

A recommendation was made by the European Parliament that consideration be given by the Member States to a simplification of the award procedure. [recommendation, European Parliament, Member States) [recommend, consider, simplify]

The foregoing table is intended to assist readers in understanding the costs and expenses that the university will bear directly or indirectly. [Table, readers, costs] [intend, assist, understand]

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9 – Reformulate the sentences

Exercise type

Unscramble sentences

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Instruction

Unscramble the improved version of sentences from the previous exercise

[Several books] [describe] [how] [Mahler] [screamed] [at] [the] [musicians] [in] [his] [orchestra].

[The United Nations] [must] [now] [turn] [to top-priority] tasks] [in order to] [reach] [its] goals].

[This table] [describes] [the] university’s] [costs] [and] [expenses].

[The European Parliament] [recommended] [that] [the member states] [consider] [simplifying] [the award procedure].

[The Physics Department] [should] [expand] [its] [internet facilities] [to meet] [the growing need].

[Both parties] [hope] [to avoid] [further] [delays].

[Great Britain’s] [government] [has] [decided] [to ask] [the World Bank] [for] [a loan].

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10a – Selecting the right words

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In 1944, George Orwell came up with a number of rules for writing well. One of these rules is:

“Never use a long word where a short one will do. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.”

For example:

The Ministry of State has reached the conclusion that it should make an application to the Federal government with a view to the possible granting of a loan

Could be cut down to:

The Ministry of State has concluded that it should ask the Federal government for a loan.

and

The experiment had to be postponed because of the unfavourable climatic conditions.

Could be rewritten as:

The experiment was postponed because of the bad weather.

Citation: George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language”

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10b

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Finding the right word is one of the most important tasks of good writing. Use words accurately, with precision, and avoid gobbledygook and jargon. When revising, look for phrases and words that don’t stand up to scrutiny. Generally speaking, it is a good rule to use the more common and simpler word if no loss in meaning is involved. For example:

Stratford is the locality where Shakespeare was born.

Better: Stratford is the place where Shakespeare was born.

Below is a list from the “Plain English” website of simpler, more common words which may be used in place of words which may at first sound more “academic”

ascertain find out

axiomatic obvious

endeavour try

expedite hasten, speed up

facilitate make easier, help

formulate work out, devise, form

for the reason that because

locality place

optimum best, greatest, most

strategize plan

www.plainenglish.co.uk (The “Plain English” campaign was begun by a British civil servant inspired by Orwell.)

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10c Commas

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After you have done the work of reorganizing your structure and of editing your style, you need to proofread. It is very important for that first impression that you make no mistakes in spelling or punctuation. Some of the most common mistakes that can be quickly caught are commas after introductory elements and semi-colons between two complete sentences. Remember the rules:

A comma is generally used after an introductory element, especially if this element is long or if the speaker would normally pause at this point in speech.

Remembering what Berlin was like in spring, she looked forward to returning.

When mentioning a word for the first, a comma is placed in front of any abbreviations, acronyms of that word.

[Give an example, e.g. with GNP]

However, a comma is misplaced if it comes between the verb and its object. This mistake is especially common before “that”

Incorrect: I doubt, that she understands how to use commas correctly.

Correct: I doubt that she understands how to use commas correctly.

Exercise name:

11

Exercise type

Text checker

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Instruction

It is axiomatic (obvious) that English has become the world’s most spoken language in science, politics and commerce.

It was difficult to ascertain (find out) from the corpora whether the women use more deictic expressions than men.

Berlin is the capital of Germany for the reason that (because) it was once the capital of Prussia.

The optimum (best) advertising strategy is often only discovered after extensive market research.

Subjects who utilize (use) …

the library correctly will help facilitate (speed up) your work.

Adding this chemical will expedite (speed up) the reaction.

Exercise name:

12 – Comm

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