Content Editing

Elements of Style and The Paragraph

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The paragraph is one of the fundamental building blocks of academic writing.  Each paragraph in your essay or research should contain a series of sentences which develops one (and only one) main idea. A well-written paragraph usually begins with a sentence that informs the reader of the central idea or purpose of that paragraph. This is called the topic sentence.  A topic sentence consists of the topic and the controlling idea (e.g., an aspect or dimension of the idea).
Following your topic sentence is the body of your paragraph. The body of your paragraph should support or develop the main idea in your topic sentence. You can develop your paragraph by providing details, examples, facts, reasons, or incidents – all of which should lead back to the central idea in your topic sentence. If you are crafting a research paper, it is here that you could use quotes from another source, as long as it supports your topic sentence. Quotes, when used sparingly, add credibility to your writing. If all of the sentences within the body of your paragraph support your topic sentence, your paragraph will demonstrate cohesiveness and unity. Unity is one characteristic of good writing. Another quality you want your writing to emit is coherence. Depending on your chosen topic, you can foster coherence by arranging your sentences in a logical order (e.g., chronological or spatial order).
The concluding sentence is located at the conclusion of your paragraph. It should be the logical consequence of your thoughts and ideas, which have been developed throughout the paragraph. The conclusion sentence either summarizes your ideas or acts as a transition to the next paragraph, preparing your reader for the central idea which will be introduced in your next paragraph.

What follows is writing sample wherein the three main parts of a proper paragraph have been described in red parenthesis:

Mapplethorpe’s compositions reveal his strong, consistent aesthetic goal – one which is not only direct, but which also strives for perfection in both balance in subject and form. (This first sentence is the topic sentence. From this sentence, it becomes clear that the topic of this essay is Mapplethorpe’s compositions, and that the controlling idea throughout this paragraph will be Mapplethorpe’s aesthetic goal). In his works, Mapplethorpe insists on the entire composition, not just the photograph, as being the object – as opposed to merely the subject of the photograph being the sole object. For example, the texture and material of the frame reiterates the subject of the photograph. The goal is to make viewing his works both participatory and confrontational, something he has effectively accomplished with relentless arrogance as seen in his work The Slave. (These two sentences represent the body of the paragraph. Within them, the author explains why she wrote what she wrote in her topic sentence, describing Mapplethorpe’s art and using an example to reiterate her point). Although some of his works have been controversial, Mapplethorpe always managed to produce what he deemed aesthetically important – a powerful and memorable statement presenting two seemingly incompatible qualities: directness and ambiguity. (This is the concluding sentence. The reader should recognize that this is the final sentence of this paragraph because the content summarizes what was written throughout the entire paragraph).

When you have finished writing, you should always edit your work. When editing, remember to check that these basic elements are present:

  1. A topic sentence with a controlling idea
  2. Body sentences displaying coherence and unity
  3. A concluding sentence

Good Luck!
By: Dawn S., On Demand Editor for editorr

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Books for the Grammar-Loving Heart

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There are tons of books out there that can help you improve your spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Some do so with humor, which I find attractive when I’m suggesting one to a friend who is not typically interested in such topics. The purpose of these manuals is not to poke fun at those incapable of using commas or apostrophes correctly, rather, it is to promote more accurate and thoughtful communication. The utilization of proper grammar and punctuation allows an author to convey his or her message more precisely.
Here is a list of reference books that I have found helpful (some are even good for a laugh):
1. Eats, Shoots & Leaves – Lynne Truss goes about her punctuation lessons hilariously. While some might find her to be the stickler to end all sticklers, her sarcastic hyperbole is apparent in lines such as, “If this satanic sprinkling of redundant apostrophes causes no… quickening of the pulse, you should probably put this book down at once.” Or when she refers to the absence of an apostrophe in a possessive as, “…rous[ing] feelings not only of despair but of violence.” Her humor makes this book a fun, unconventional way to brush up on punctuation.

2. The Best Punctuation Book, Period. – June Casagrande is much more formal and to the point, but this is a good thing. Her book is organized into two parts, “Guidelines” (with chapters devoted to individual punctuation marks), and “Punctuation A to Z” (including a table of terms that are often problematic, organized alphabetically). Both sections provide punctuation advice for different styles of writing (e.g., books, news, science, and academic). If you want to know more about the em dash vs the en dash, there is a chapter for each. This is a great grammar reference manual to have on hand.

3. Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen – As former copy editor for the New Yorker, Mary Norris’s memoir and reference guide for grammar and usage is entertaining and will teach you about punctuation and life. She likens her pencil and eraser addiction to that of a food addiction: “I was addicted. They were like Oreos. Soon I was consuming them by the dozen.” With chapters such as, “A Dash, a Semicolon, and a Colon Walk into a Bar,” “Ballad of a Pencil Junkie,” and “F*ck this Sh*t,” you can’t help but love this writer and her take on punctuation.

4. The Only Grammar Book You’ll Ever Need – Susan Thurman has compiled the most important aspects of writing into a handy, accessible guide. This book can be utilized by anyone needing to brush up on the proper use of a hyphen, or where to put a semicolon. Sometimes reviewing basic sentence structure and advice regarding content clarity is exactly the sort of refresher we all need. There are chapters entitled, “Finding the Right Words,” “Writing Better Sentences,” and “Pronoun Problems.” This book is organized so that each and every reader, regardless of his or her skill level, will benefit from its contents.

Have you read any of these? What are your go-to books for all things grammar and punctuation?
By: Amber D., On Demand Editor for editorr

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“If you don’t care about your writing, why should I care about you and your business?”

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IMG_4239I read an interesting quote today: “If you don’t care about your writing, why should I care about you and your business?”  Obviously, this quote hit home for me.  You can take the word “business” and replace it with many other words pertinent to your particular needs: resume, newsletter, report, email, blog post, cover letter, etc.

Nearly every day, I come across brochures, website copy, print advertisements, emails, blog posts, and newsletters that were poorly written.  That said, most of what I see has been written by highly competent professionals, often experts in their field.  The net result is that what they write diminishes their message and damages their reputation.

Writing seems easy enough, to most people, but as we now know, it’s not.  It’s an art form that needs to be properly addressed.  You have to strike a balance between providing too much information to the reader and too little, and between inflating the reasons for success and under-selling them.  While poor writing will hinder a good reputation, excellent writing will enrich it. Really good writing can create credibility where none existed before.  Good writing gets noticed and that’s good news for whatever business that writing is supporting.

Good writing not only gains the attention of the reader, it convinces.  Effective writing needs to be attractive, friendly,  and jargon-free, but it will still fail if its underlying message is not strong enough.  Whereas poor writing will sabotage a good reputation, excellent writing will enhance it.

Sounds simple enough, right?  You would be surprised by how may people do not take the time to write well, keeping them from fulfilling their highest potential.  Don’t be one of those people.

What are your thoughts on this?  Do you think poor writing effects professional credibility?


Cheers to writing well!

Brian Robison

CEO and Co-Founder of editorr, LLC

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