Guest post written by W.O.R.D. Ink team member, Gannon Daniels
I have seen countless papers; pages of paragraphs: Essays. These essays were written for composition courses of many levels by community college students with varying degrees of talent and ability. I have been an instructor and tutor at a community college for 13 years. What have I done? Looked at essays.
Some students are heart-broken when they get a “C” on their paper. “I worked so hard on it,” they say. I believe them, and yet I know there is something they don’t quite get.
Writing is rewriting.
In the first place, the creative step — the leap, if you will — is the joyous part. The writer imparts his wisdom and feelings that gush like lava, hot and immediate. He then types it up into, what he thinks is, reasonable paragraphs. He dons a snappy title and with pride the paper is turned in on time. As far as he is concerned, he has done something monumental. He has actually coughed up something someone can read that, according to him, makes sense. But does it? Is it really readable, coherent cogent expression?
Revision is the key to good writing.
Revisions: Creating New Relationships with Your Words
There are some simple steps to take and questions to ask yourself as you sit back down, before the paper is turned in. Create a relationship with what you have written. Think of it as your baby. Something you need to nurture and get to know. All too often we want to share our masterpiece before it really is one.
Revision creates a new relationship with words. Each word, each sentence, is purposeful. Make sure each sentence is doing what you want it to do. This may take some time. Here’s where the writer wants to bag, go get a sandwich, call a friend, pierce his or her eyelid. None of this early work is easy, but I’m here to tell you it gets easier. In fact, it becomes a friendship. Once you look at words as malleable assistants in a world of communication, you create a deeper desire to be clearer, more organized and maybe even good.
Thesis vs Topic Sentences: Organizing Around a Central Idea
Another revision task is organization. Do the paragraphs connect to the thesis statement? Are the topic sentences working? Maybe one needs to ask: Do I have a thesis statement? What are topic sentences?
MINI LESSON: A thesis statement is a sentence that is the culmination of the writer’s intention for the entire essay. I’ve heard it said and have heard myself saying, “The thesis is your essay in a nutshell.” A topic sentence is the first sentence in a paragraph that serves as an umbrella statement, whereby all things under it or included in the paragraph relate to and support the topic sentence.
Let’s say our thesis is an explicit one. Teachers like those. The assignment is a personal narrative. The sky is the limit. The thesis statement is: “Because of my volunteering at [insert non-profit], I now look at Christmas time as a time to serve, reach out and be contemplative.” With this thesis, the reader sees that the first body paragraph is going to be about SERVING, the second body paragraph is going to be about REACHING OUT and the third body paragraph is going to be about CONTEMPLATING.
Possible topic sentences for these paragraphs might be:
- Serving those in need creates community and fulfills many people’s needs.
- When I do reach out, I become aware of the hardships people face.
- During this time, I often reflect on my own life and am thankful.
No matter what topic you are writing about, a thesis can be born and topic sentences can be devised.
Sometimes it’s easier to create the topic sentences first. After doing the relationship work and labeling each sentence with a purpose, you can categorize them appropriately. Often we discover that pieces of our writing aren’t serving us, so we cut them. Other times we find a category that hasn’t been explored enough and we go back to the writing table, the results of which just might become a new body paragraph.
Once I go over these organizational ideas with young writers, they wish they’d had their thesis and topic sentences in the first place. Of course! Because once they’re in place, one can forge ahead and stick to the road. But I tell them, it usually takes lots of writing and brainstorming and then rewriting before a writer can see what he or she really has.
It is in the relationship with words that we gain the most clarity. When we can see a sentence, a paragraph, a thesis for its purpose and manipulate it into pure unwavering salience, then we are doing what we are supposed to be doing; not turning in an assignment, but communicating clearly.
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