It's rare that good writing occurs in one sitting, or without cutting and revision. You will need to learn to divorce yourself from your first choice of words. There may be whiffs of genius there, but thorough re-writing is critical in making the transient concrete.


Obliterate words that do not assist in creating the meaning or feeling you want. Rearrange paragraphs. Find better transitions. All of this is made much easier with the advent of computers.

College writing needs to be tight. Professors and editors don't want to read wordy documents even if they contain brilliant ideas. Fine tuning your prose will come with practice. Ken Macroirie's chapter on tightening in Telling Writing contains some useful hints:

Avoid repetition: Dad asked mom to rewire the refrigerator. Mom looked at him like he was crazy.

Combining these sentences and changing the repeated "mom" word to a pronoun makes these sentences much clearer: When Dad asked Mom to rewire the refrigerator, she looked at him like he was crazy."

Trim all unnecessary "that," "which," and "who" words. The following sentences would read much more clearly without the phrases in brackets:

Mike, John's brother, [is a guy who] can never stay out of trouble.

[The things that] you need to bring are toothpaste, black leather boots, and a set of hand cuffs.

Trim any words that don't add meaning to your sentence:

Instead of: The thing that I really like is when we go to the beach every June.

Try: I like our trips to the beach every June.

Instead of: Of all the things that bother me, his bad breath is the worst.

Try: His bad breath really bothers me.

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Reworking Content

In addition to ruthless cutting, you should play with content. Where can your reader have fun? A lesson learned with humor is usually learned well. Check for sweeping generalizations. Have your really written the truth in the sharpest possible way? If you used repetition, was it deliberate or due to the absence of a thesaurus?

Emiliano Zapata once said, "If you cannot describe your idea on a matchbook, perhaps I will not choose to read it." What if you eliminated, say, the adverbs? Would it be worse? Did you write things, not words?

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Introductions and Conclusions

Check your openings and the close. Is your first sentence an especially strong one? Does you introduction suggest what the rest of your paper will be about? Is you thesis stated clearly and early?

Can you relate your conclusion directly back to the beginning statement? Did you? Does your conclusion actually make sense? Does it flow from your argument in the paper or does it merely restate your introduction?

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What order in the presentation makes the most sense? What transitions can you use to progress logically, or artistically, from one point to another?

Do your thoughts move smoothly or leap from one unrelated premise to the next? Have you provided proof? Have you considered the objections your audience might raise? Is the final product representative of your assigned task? If not, what tactics will you use to demonstrate its value?

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Proofread--Do Not just Spell-check

Spell-checkers pave the road to doom. They are just good enough to tempt you to not proofread, to ignore the possibility that your typed tow rather than two or don instead of do or done. People who read a lot, like editors and professors, become annoyed at proofreading material which should have been corrected before it reached them. This, then, influences their view of the quality of the material.

Moreover, some errors can be significant. C squared equals A squared plus D squared could lead to problems--if D should be B.

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How Long Should It Be?
It should be as long as the assignment. Ideally, it should be as long, or as short, as it takes to explain your idea.

As you are revising be sure to take out all the padding you added when you didn't think your paper would be long enough. Quantity does not always denote quality.

Tony Hernandez, a director of the National Education Association, speaking of his own writing, said he always took his mother's advice:

"Know your stuff. Know who you're stuffing. Stuff eloquently."

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To Chapter 6

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