…at what they’ve just written, and at the squiggly lines that word processors generate under questionable word choices and grammatical errors, this is an example of what you get:
(From a recent student paper.)
Actually, most of my recent students have been good about proofreading. Examples like this one stand out to me partly because they aren’t that common, but partly, also, because I don’t understand why they happen at all. That is, I can’t imagine what it takes to turn something in without (a) noticing these markings, and/or (b) caring to address them.
We’re still a long way from routine, sentence-level revisions!
With enthusiasts like Doug Lemov, the sentence is finally, after years of neglect, regaining its due. And this due is long overdue. After all, the sentence is the minimal unit of thought. It derives from Latin sententia, meaning “opinion” (and shares its root with “sententious”). As Catherine has cited J.S. Mill as saying, “the structure of every sentence is a lesson in logic.” And, as I noted in my last post, it’s the smallest unit of prose that lends itself to multiple revisions.
Jostling me out of my grading groove this weekend was this item–another candidate for my collection of student sentences:
I’ve entered a slightly obsessive state …. writing, rewriting, writing, rewriting, writing, rewriting … I’m stuck in a loop.
I don’t like loops.
Anyway, long story short, I haven’t read comments.
One of the best writing instructors I ever had gave some advice that, for many years, I took too much to heart. “Wordy,” “repetitive,” “you can reduce this passage by a third”—these were among Mr. C’s most frequent comments in the margins of our English papers. My takeaway: the number one priority in revising your work is to cut out as many words as possible.
To this day, I continue to cut. And even when I’m forced into virtual clear-cutting—say when my first draft is several hundred words over the limit—I’ve generally found what survives to be much improved: denser with active verbs and precise nouns, freer of fillers like “it” and hedges like “seems”.
A couple of excerpts from an essay J recently submitted for English 101:
At that time, people didn’t think that smoking was as bad, and therefore a lot of people have smoked and there weren’t as much rules about smoking in the building or restaurants or bar, and even hospitals.
Speaking of people drinking alcohol, there was some prohibition from 1920 to 1933, but it seemed like picture was taken after the prohibition ended, but before the prohibition ended, there were some organized crimes, like going to a secret bar and drink alcohol.
Just as subjects and verbs can agree (“he walks”) or disagree (“he walk”), so, too, with verbs and prepositions. For example, we “bring up” a topic; we don’t “bring of” a topic; we “speak of” someone”; not “up” someone. Arbitrary though preposition agreement is, it matters. As with verb agreement, errors be hard on the ears.