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Writing Guide with Handbook

3.6 Editing Focus: Sentence Structure

Writing Guide with Handbook3.6 Editing Focus: Sentence Structure
  1. Preface
  2. The Things We Carry: Experience, Culture, and Language
    1. Unit Introduction
    2. 1 The Digital World: Building on What You Already Know to Respond Critically
      1. Introduction
      2. 1.1 "Reading" to Understand and Respond
      3. 1.2 Social Media Trailblazer: Selena Gomez
      4. 1.3 Glance at Critical Response: Rhetoric and Critical Thinking
      5. 1.4 Annotated Student Sample: Social Media Post and Responses on Voter Suppression
      6. 1.5 Writing Process: Thinking Critically About a “Text”
      7. 1.6 Evaluation: Intention vs. Execution
      8. 1.7 Spotlight on … Academia
      9. 1.8 Portfolio: Tracing Writing Development
      10. Further Reading
      11. Works Cited
    3. 2 Language, Identity, and Culture: Exploring, Employing, Embracing
      1. Introduction
      2. 2.1 Seeds of Self
      3. 2.2 Identity Trailblazer: Cathy Park Hong
      4. 2.3 Glance at the Issues: Oppression and Reclamation
      5. 2.4 Annotated Sample Reading from The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois
      6. 2.5 Writing Process: Thinking Critically about How Identity Is Constructed Through Writing
      7. 2.6 Evaluation: Antiracism and Inclusivity
      8. 2.7 Spotlight on … Variations of English
      9. 2.8 Portfolio: Decolonizing Self
      10. Further Reading
      11. Works Cited
    4. 3 Literacy Narrative: Building Bridges, Bridging Gaps
      1. Introduction
      2. 3.1 Identity and Expression
      3. 3.2 Literacy Narrative Trailblazer: Tara Westover
      4. 3.3 Glance at Genre: The Literacy Narrative
      5. 3.4 Annotated Sample Reading: from Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass
      6. 3.5 Writing Process: Tracing the Beginnings of Literacy
      7. 3.6 Editing Focus: Sentence Structure
      8. 3.7 Evaluation: Self-Evaluating
      9. 3.8 Spotlight on … The Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives (DALN)
      10. 3.9 Portfolio: A Literacy Artifact
      11. Further Reading
      12. Works Cited
      13. Works Consulted
  3. Bridging the Divide Between Personal Identity and Academia
    1. Unit Introduction
    2. 4 Memoir or Personal Narrative: Learning Lessons from the Personal
      1. Introduction
      2. 4.1 Exploring the Past to Understand the Present
      3. 4.2 Memoir Trailblazer: Ta-Nehisi Coates
      4. 4.3 Glance at Genre: Conflict, Detail, and Revelation
      5. 4.4 Annotated Sample Reading: from Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain
      6. 4.5 Writing Process: Making the Personal Public
      7. 4.6 Editing Focus: More on Characterization and Point of View
      8. 4.7 Evaluation: Structure and Organization
      9. 4.8 Spotlight on … Multilingual Writers
      10. 4.9 Portfolio: Filtered Memories
      11. Further Reading
      12. Works Cited
    3. 5 Profile: Telling a Rich and Compelling Story
      1. Introduction
      2. 5.1 Profiles as Inspiration
      3. 5.2 Profile Trailblazer: Veronica Chambers
      4. 5.3 Glance at Genre: Subject, Angle, Background, and Description
      5. 5.4 Annotated Sample Reading: “Remembering John Lewis” by Carla D. Hayden
      6. 5.5 Writing Process: Focusing on the Angle of Your Subject
      7. 5.6 Editing Focus: Verb Tense Consistency
      8. 5.7 Evaluation: Text as Personal Introduction
      9. 5.8 Spotlight on … Profiling a Cultural Artifact
      10. 5.9 Portfolio: Subject as a Reflection of Self
      11. Works Cited
    4. 6 Proposal: Writing About Problems and Solutions
      1. Introduction
      2. 6.1 Proposing Change: Thinking Critically About Problems and Solutions
      3. 6.2 Proposal Trailblazer: Atul Gawande
      4. 6.3 Glance at Genre: Features of Proposals
      5. 6.4 Annotated Student Sample: “Slowing Climate Change” by Shawn Krukowski
      6. 6.5 Writing Process: Creating a Proposal
      7. 6.6 Editing Focus: Subject-Verb Agreement
      8. 6.7 Evaluation: Conventions, Clarity, and Coherence
      9. 6.8 Spotlight on … Technical Writing as a Career
      10. 6.9 Portfolio: Reflecting on Problems and Solutions
      11. Further Reading
      12. Works Cited
    5. 7 Evaluation or Review: Would You Recommend It?
      1. Introduction
      2. 7.1 Thumbs Up or Down?
      3. 7.2 Review Trailblazer: Michiko Kakutani
      4. 7.3 Glance at Genre: Criteria, Evidence, Evaluation
      5. 7.4 Annotated Student Sample: "Black Representation in Film" by Caelia Marshall
      6. 7.5 Writing Process: Thinking Critically About Entertainment
      7. 7.6 Editing Focus: Quotations
      8. 7.7 Evaluation: Effect on Audience
      9. 7.8 Spotlight on … Language and Culture
      10. 7.9 Portfolio: What the Arts Say About You
      11. Further Reading
      12. Works Cited
    6. 8 Analytical Report: Writing from Facts
      1. Introduction
      2. 8.1 Information and Critical Thinking
      3. 8.2 Analytical Report Trailblazer: Barbara Ehrenreich
      4. 8.3 Glance at Genre: Informal and Formal Analytical Reports
      5. 8.4 Annotated Student Sample: "U.S. Response to COVID-19" by Trevor Garcia
      6. 8.5 Writing Process: Creating an Analytical Report
      7. 8.6 Editing Focus: Commas with Nonessential and Essential Information
      8. 8.7 Evaluation: Reviewing the Final Draft
      9. 8.8 Spotlight on … Discipline-Specific and Technical Language
      10. 8.9 Portfolio: Evidence and Objectivity
      11. Further Reading
      12. Works Cited
    7. 9 Rhetorical Analysis: Interpreting the Art of Rhetoric
      1. Introduction
      2. 9.1 Breaking the Whole into Its Parts
      3. 9.2 Rhetorical Analysis Trailblazer: Jamil Smith
      4. 9.3 Glance at Genre: Rhetorical Strategies
      5. 9.4 Annotated Student Sample: “Rhetorical Analysis: Evicted by Matthew Desmond” by Eliana Evans
      6. 9.5 Writing Process: Thinking Critically about Rhetoric
      7. 9.6 Editing Focus: Mixed Sentence Constructions
      8. 9.7 Evaluation: Rhetorical Analysis
      9. 9.8 Spotlight on … Business and Law
      10. 9.9 Portfolio: How Thinking Critically about Rhetoric Affects Intellectual Growth
      11. Further Reading
      12. Works Cited
    8. 10 Position Argument: Practicing the Art of Rhetoric
      1. Introduction
      2. 10.1 Making a Case: Defining a Position Argument
      3. 10.2 Position Argument Trailblazer: Charles Blow
      4. 10.3 Glance at Genre: Thesis, Reasoning, and Evidence
      5. 10.4 Annotated Sample Reading: "Remarks at the University of Michigan" by Lyndon B. Johnson
      6. 10.5 Writing Process: Creating a Position Argument
      7. 10.6 Editing Focus: Paragraphs and Transitions
      8. 10.7 Evaluation: Varied Appeals
      9. 10.8 Spotlight on … Citation
      10. 10.9 Portfolio: Growth in the Development of Argument
      11. Further Reading
      12. Works Cited
    9. 11 Reasoning Strategies: Improving Critical Thinking
      1. Introduction
      2. 11.1 Developing Your Sense of Logic
      3. 11.2 Reasoning Trailblazer: Paul D. N. Hebert
      4. 11.3 Glance at Genre: Reasoning Strategies and Signal Words
      5. 11.4 Annotated Sample Reading: from Book VII of The Republic by Plato
      6. 11.5 Writing Process: Reasoning Supported by Evidence
      7. Further Reading
      8. Works Cited
    10. 12 Argumentative Research: Enhancing the Art of Rhetoric with Evidence
      1. Introduction
      2. 12.1 Introducing Research and Research Evidence
      3. 12.2 Argumentative Research Trailblazer: Samin Nosrat
      4. 12.3 Glance at Genre: Introducing Research as Evidence
      5. 12.4 Annotated Student Sample: "Healthy Diets from Sustainable Sources Can Save the Earth" by Lily Tran
      6. 12.5 Writing Process: Integrating Research
      7. 12.6 Editing Focus: Integrating Sources and Quotations
      8. 12.7 Evaluation: Effectiveness of Research Paper
      9. 12.8 Spotlight on … Bias in Language and Research
      10. 12.9 Portfolio: Why Facts Matter in Research Argumentation
      11. Further Reading
      12. Works Cited
    11. 13 Research Process: Accessing and Recording Information
      1. Introduction
      2. 13.1 The Research Process: Where to Look for Existing Sources
      3. 13.2 The Research Process: How to Create Sources
      4. 13.3 Glance at the Research Process: Key Skills
      5. 13.4 Annotated Student Sample: Research Log
      6. 13.5 Research Process: Making Notes, Synthesizing Information, and Keeping a Research Log
      7. 13.6 Spotlight on … Ethical Research
      8. Further Reading
      9. Works Cited
    12. 14 Annotated Bibliography: Gathering, Evaluating, and Documenting Sources
      1. Introduction
      2. 14.1 Compiling Sources for an Annotated Bibliography
      3. 14.2 Glance at Form: Citation Style, Purpose, and Formatting
      4. 14.3 Annotated Student Sample: “Healthy Diets from Sustainable Sources Can Save the Earth” by Lily Tran
      5. 14.4 Writing Process: Informing and Analyzing
      6. Further Reading
      7. Works Cited
    13. 15 Case Study Profile: What One Person Says About All
      1. Introduction
      2. 15.1 Tracing a Broad Issue in the Individual
      3. 15.2 Case Study Trailblazer: Vilayanur S. Ramachandran
      4. 15.3 Glance at Genre: Observation, Description, and Analysis
      5. 15.4 Annotated Sample Reading: Case Study on Louis Victor "Tan" Leborgne
      6. 15.5 Writing Process: Thinking Critically About How People and Language Interact
      7. 15.6 Editing Focus: Words Often Confused
      8. 15.7 Evaluation: Presentation and Analysis of Case Study
      9. 15.8 Spotlight on … Applied Linguistics
      10. 15.9 Portfolio: Your Own Uses of Language
      11. Further Reading
      12. Works Cited
  4. Navigating Rhetoric in Real Life
    1. Unit Introduction
    2. 16 Print or Textual Analysis: What You Read
      1. Introduction
      2. 16.1 An Author’s Choices: What Text Says and How It Says It
      3. 16.2 Textual Analysis Trailblazer: bell hooks
      4. 16.3 Glance at Genre: Print or Textual Analysis
      5. 16.4 Annotated Student Sample: "Artists at Work" by Gwyn Garrison
      6. 16.5 Writing Process: Thinking Critically About Text
      7. 16.6 Editing Focus: Literary Works Live in the Present
      8. 16.7 Evaluation: Self-Directed Assessment
      9. 16.8 Spotlight on … Humanities
      10. 16.9 Portfolio: The Academic and the Personal
      11. Further Reading
      12. Works Cited
    3. 17 Image Analysis: What You See
      1. Introduction
      2. 17.1 “Reading” Images
      3. 17.2 Image Trailblazer: Sara Ludy
      4. 17.3 Glance at Genre: Relationship Between Image and Rhetoric
      5. 17.4 Annotated Student Sample: “Hints of the Homoerotic” by Leo Davis
      6. 17.5 Writing Process: Thinking Critically and Writing Persuasively About Images
      7. 17.6 Editing Focus: Descriptive Diction
      8. 17.7 Evaluation: Relationship Between Analysis and Image
      9. 17.8 Spotlight on … Video and Film
      10. 17.9 Portfolio: Interplay Between Text and Image
      11. Further Reading
      12. Works Cited
    4. 18 Multimodal and Online Writing: Creative Interaction between Text and Image
      1. Introduction
      2. 18.1 Mixing Genres and Modes
      3. 18.2 Multimodal Trailblazer: Torika Bolatagici
      4. 18.3 Glance at Genre: Genre, Audience, Purpose, Organization
      5. 18.4 Annotated Sample Reading: “Celebrating a Win-Win” by Alexandra Dapolito Dunn
      6. 18.5 Writing Process: Create a Multimodal Advocacy Project
      7. 18.6 Evaluation: Transitions
      8. 18.7 Spotlight on . . . Technology
      9. 18.8 Portfolio: Multimodalism
      10. Further Reading
      11. Works Cited
    5. 19 Scripting for the Public Forum: Writing to Speak
      1. Introduction
      2. 19.1 Writing, Speaking, and Activism
      3. 19.2 Podcast Trailblazer: Alice Wong
      4. 19.3 Glance at Genre: Language Performance and Visuals
      5. 19.4 Annotated Student Sample: “Are New DOT Regulations Discriminatory?” by Zain A. Kumar
      6. 19.5 Writing Process: Writing to Speak
      7. 19.6 Evaluation: Bridging Writing and Speaking
      8. 19.7 Spotlight on … Delivery/Public Speaking
      9. 19.8 Portfolio: Everyday Rhetoric, Rhetoric Every Day
      10. Further Reading
      11. Works Cited
    6. 20 Portfolio Reflection: Your Growth as a Writer
      1. Introduction
      2. 20.1 Thinking Critically about Your Semester
      3. 20.2 Reflection Trailblazer: Sandra Cisneros
      4. 20.3 Glance at Genre: Purpose and Structure
      5. 20.4 Annotated Sample Reading: “Don’t Expect Congrats” by Dale Trumbore
      6. 20.5 Writing Process: Looking Back, Looking Forward
      7. 20.6 Editing Focus: Pronouns
      8. 20.7 Evaluation: Evaluating Self-Reflection
      9. 20.8 Spotlight on … Pronouns in Context
      10. Further Reading
      11. Works Cited
  5. Handbook
  6. Index

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Use language structures, including multilingual structures, grammar, punctuation, and spelling, during the process of editing.
  • Develop flexible strategies for drafting, reviewing, collaborating, revising, rewriting, and editing.
  • Use composing processes and tools as a means to discover and reconsider ideas.

After writing a draft of your literacy narrative and revising it to strengthen the overall structure and content of the text, you are ready to pay closer attention to individual sentences within it. This section offers several strategies for improving your sentences to communicate meaning more effectively to your audience and to make the reading experience more engaging.

Sentence Combining

Sentence combining is an often-used revision strategy that can completely transform a narrative. When writers compose early drafts with many short sentences rather than more sophisticated efforts at varied or complex sentence construction, the writing appears choppy and disjointed. Once you have a complete draft of your essay, consider combining sentences to provide your audience with more effective and nuanced ways of reading your work. You can combine short, repetitive sentences into a simple sentence with a compound predicate or subject, as in the first example below. Or you can combine the shorter sentences into a complex sentence with a dependent clause, as in the second example. See Clear and Effective Sentences for more information about effective sentences and sentence structure.

  • 1a. I learned to play piano. I was five years old. Learning to play piano is my literacy experience. Memorizing the location of the keys is also my literacy experience.

  • 1b. Learning to play piano at the age of five and memorizing the location of the keys are my literacy experiences.

  • 2a. I learned to read in first grade. Learning to read made me want to be a teacher. I want to share my experience with reading with future first graders.

  • 2b. Learning to read as a first grader made me want to become a teacher so that I could share my experiences with future first graders.

Read through the draft of your essay, and look for sentences that are closely related enough that they can be combined for richer meaning. However, keep in mind that short sentences can be effective in your writing, especially when you want to create realistic dialogue or show action. Strive to create a balance among sentence lengths and types to engage your audience. Remember, too, that the best test of whether words are pulling their own weight and providing rhythm, balance, and emphasis is to read the passage aloud. Let your ear tell you what is sharp and clear and what could benefit from editing.

Revising Common Sentence Patterns for More Effective Communication

If you have often been told to make your sentences clearer, less wordy, or both, but you do not know where to start, this section offers some quick strategies to address some of the most common issues that contribute to unclear or wordy writing.

Defining You and This. One common pattern that makes writing less clear is the use of you to mean “a random person” rather than “you,” the audience. Here is an example, followed by a revision.

  • 1a. You must plan your document carefully to connect with your audience.

  • 1b. Writers must plan their documents carefully to connect with their audiences.

This sentence is stronger with the revision clearly indicating who needs to plan their writing. You might be writing a piece addressed directly to the audience, as this textbook is. If so, be careful to distinguish between the use of you to mean your specific audience—appropriate when directly addressing an audience—and a hazier use of you that needs clarification. Use the “find” function to search your document for the word you, and then replace every unclear you with a definite noun.

Another pattern affecting the clarity of written work is using the word this on its own without an explanation of what “this” is. Here is an example, along with its revision.

  • 1a. This can be confusing to the reader.

  • 1b. This lack of explanation can be confusing to the reader.

In the first sentence, the audience wonders, “This what?” In the second sentence, the writer simply adds a noun phrase to explain, and readers will appreciate the clarification. Use the “find” function to search your document for this, and make sure you have defined or explained this in all cases.

Revising Sentences to Change There are / There is or It is. Readers relate better to sentences that feature a “doer”—someone or something performing an action—and an “action”—the activity of the doer. For this reason, writing that overuses the sentence patterns There are . . . / There is . . . and It is . . . in place of a doer and action can seem unclear, remote, or dull for the reader. As you revise such sentences, you may find at times that you need to insert a doer or an action; one or both may be missing from the first version of the sentence. Here is one example, with a suggested revision.

  • 1a. There are many strategies to revise written work.

  • 1b. Authors employ many strategies to revise written work.

In the first sentence, the doer (“authors”) is implied, but the second sentence includes a doer for a more reader-friendly version.

Sentences using the It is . . . pattern need similar attention to present a doer and an action to the reader. Here is one example and revision.

  • 1a. It is challenging and rewarding to revise a composition.

  • 1b. I feel challenged and rewarded when revising a composition.

Again, the first sentence needs an agent to do the sentence’s actions. Use the “find” function to search your document for “there are,” “there is,” and “it is,” and replace these weaker sentence constructions with doers and actions wherever possible.

Eliminating Wordiness. To begin, look at the sentences below to get a sense of what wordiness is. Eliminating wordiness should not alter or omit information. In these sentences, the information remains the same, but the edited sentence shows a trimmed-down version. There was and that are eliminated, as is the unnecessary adverb really; was shining becomes shone; and the phrase waves in the ocean becomes ocean waves.

  • 1a. There was a really bright light that was shining on the waves in the ocean.

  • 1b. A bright light shone on the ocean waves.

In general, try to cut out words that do not add meaning, rhythm, or emphasis. Sentences clogged with unnecessary words often cause readers to lose interest, patience, and comprehension. Edit sentences to include concrete nouns and action verbs—or “doers” and “actions,” as described above. Additionally, choosing modifiers carefully will help you weed out unnecessary words. Look at the following sentences, which all say essentially the same thing. However, you will see some changes and omissions.

  • In almost every situation that I can think of, except with few exceptions, it will make good sense for you to look for as many places as possible to cut out needless, redundant, and repetitive words from the papers and reports, paragraphs and sentences you write for college assignments. (49 words)
  • In most situations, it makes good sense to cut out needless words from your college papers. (16 words)
  • Whenever possible, omit needless words from your writing. (8 words)
  • Omit needless words. (3 words)

The 49-word sentence is full of early-draft language; you can almost visualize the writer finding their way while writing. The 16-word sentence says much the same thing with far fewer words. Most of this editing simply cut out unnecessary words. Only at the end were several wordy phrases condensed: “from the papers and reports, paragraphs and sentences you write for college assignments” was reduced to “from your college papers.” That 16-word sentence was reduced by half by rephrasing and dropping the emphasis on college writing. And that sentence was whittled down by nearly two-thirds to arrive at the core three-word sentence, “Omit needless words.”

The first sentence is long-winded by any standard or in any context; each of the next three might serve well in different situations. Thus, when you edit to make language more concise, think about the overall effect you intend to create. Sometimes the briefest construction is not the best one for your purpose. For example, the three-word sentence is more suited to a brief list than to a sentence of advice for this book.

Editing for More Effective Sentences

This paragraph from a student's first draft of a narrative contains sentences that need editing. On a separate sheet of paper, revise the sentences to eliminate There are . . . / It is . . . , unclear you and this, and wordiness. For better flow, combine sentences that are repetitive or choppy.

It is now hours later. I think it is almost midnight, in fact. I have finally managed to get my paper started and studied for my exam. My eyes are very tired. I get up and leave my comfortable chair. Next, I walk out of the library. You have to walk through a glass door. I retrace the path that goes back to my apartment, where I came from earlier.

Revision: _________________________________________________________________

Since it is midnight, it is dark, and I nervously listen to footsteps. They are coming up behind me. Then they get too close for comfort. This is really making me very, very nervous. I am really very scared, but I step over to the sidewalk’s edge. I am trying to be calm, and I let a man walk briskly past. Phew!

Revision: _________________________________________________________________

When I am finally at my door to my apartment, I fumble for the key to the door. I insert the key in the lock. I open the door, put my hand on the switch to turn on the hall light, and step inside the door to my apartment. There are two slices of pizza left in the box that is on the kitchen counter. They are really cold and very congealed.

Revision: _________________________________________________________________

Possible edited version. Hours later—my paper started, my exam studied for, my eyes tired—I leave my comfortable chair in the library, go through the glass door, and retrace the path to my apartment. It is midnight now. I listen closely when I hear footsteps approaching behind me, their steady rhythm making me nervous. Scared, I step to the sidewalk’s edge to let a man walk briskly past. Phew! At my apartment door, I fumble for the key, insert it in the lock, open the door, tum on the hall light, and step inside. On the kitchen counter, I see the box with its two slices of cold, congealed pizza.


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