LESSON 5.17
Rewrite Old Variable

Many students think of rewriting as checking grammar and spelling. But as you learned in the previous chapter, doing that takes place at a different part of the brain than does composing. Checking grammar and spelling are part of proofreading. You are still in the composing stage.

There are three steps to rewriting:

  1. Wipe out wordiness.
  2. Re-vision for precision.
  3. Smooth sentences.

Wipe Out Wordiness

In the nonfiction with narrator chapter, you learned that cutting wordiness means to delete extra words without deleting facts except for unnecessary ones.

You learned these techniques:

  • Use strong verbs, especially noun-verbs. Verbs eliminate extra language and provide action and precision.
  • Eliminate most transitions. You usually only need transitions if you are shifting “gears.” In other words, furthermore is usually unnecessary.  However usually is required. It signals readers that you changing “sides.”
  • Delete either word of tandems, such as goals and objectives or honest opinion.
  • If you say the same thing twice though in different words, then always cut the more general word(s).

Reduce or Delete Descriptive Words

Many teachers, especially in grades 1-8, want students to use descriptive words. However, professional writers choose just the right descriptive word or use few or none. They include precise words or let verbs do the work:

  • Poor: a green, steamy jungle
    Good: a malarial jungle
  • Poor: The mountain was beautiful.
    Good: The mountain rose into the dawn.

Delete Most Adverbs 

Adverbs are garbage words. Usually, often, rarely, sometimes, never, and not are important, because they lead to precision regarding time and ownership. But words such as really, very, pretty (meaning very), extremely, and most words ending in -ly can be cut.

  • Poor: It was a really tall building.
    Good: The building was 83 stories high.

  • Poor: I categorically deny that I murdered Colonel Mustard in the library.
    Good: I did not kill Colonel Mustard.

  • Poor: We actually had to drive 28 miles just to get an ice cream cone.
    Good: We drove 28 miles for an ice cream cone.
  • Poor: Brenda batted her eyes repeatedly to hopefully get Paco’s attention.
    Good: Brenda fluttered her eyes at Paco.

Task 5.17.1 – Individual or Tandem

Delete wordiness in your manuscript about Billy Mills. For further information, see Chapter 4.6.

Re-vision for Precision

Rewriting, or re-visioning, involves seeing your prose more clearly. What is on the page is often not what we intended. We see the content, but our language does not convey it. Paring away wordiness reveals what is unclear, just as a retreating tide shows what the sea previously had kept hidden.

Answering hidden questions brings clarity just as focusing a camera does.

Poor:  Columbus sailed in three ships.
Good: Columbus sailed west in the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria.  Each held only enough water to last three thousand miles.

Task 5.17.2 – Individual or Tandem

Identify hidden questions.  Doing so will help you see the content more clearly. Answering them will help you re-vision the material so it is complete. For further information, see Chapter 4.5.

Smooth the Sentences

Ever try talking to someone who speaks haltingly or whose sentences are so twisted and convoluted that you cannot understand them? Twisted prose occurs when you do not write in a natural syntax. It is often caused by trying to cram many ideas into one sentence. An example:

The Arawak Indians, a peaceful tribe, and they had highly advanced traditions of pottery, also weaving, and they did building too.

To fix twisted prose, delete wordiness, then break up the prose into shorter sentences. Don’t try to cram two or more ideas into the same sentence.

Frontload

Poor: After working as a greeter at Denny’s, a salesperson for sunglasses in a kiosk at the mall, a teacher’s aide at Elmore Elementary, the operator of a Tubs-of-Fun with a carnival that toured the Midwest, and a strawberry picker during the stormiest rainiest summer in 81 years, Emma Lou Snyder found her true love – as a tank operator in the Army.

Good:  Emma Lou Snyder found her true love – as a tank operator in the Army – after working as a greeter at Denny’s, a salesperson for sunglasses in a kiosk at the mall, a teacher’s aide at Elmore Elementary, the operator of a Tubs-of-Fun with a carnival that toured the Midwest, and as a strawberry picker during the stormiest summer in 81 years.

Better: Emma Lou Snyder found her true love – as a tank operator in the Army. That was after having endured working as a greeter at Denny’s, a salesperson for sunglasses in a kiosk at the mall, a teacher’s aide at Elmore Elementary, the operator of a Tubs-of-Fun with a carnival that toured the Midwest, and as a strawberry picker during the stormiest summer in 81 years.

Use Active Voice

Write sentences that follow the same pattern as when we speak. That way, readers do not get pulled away from the message because the syntax (the order of language) is not what they are used to. That usually is caused by passive voice. 

There are three main causes for passive voice:

      • Not writing in a natural syntax.
      • Trying to vary sentence length.
      • Not putting in an act-or.

Active Voice

Action in English sentences usually goes left to right – the same direction in which we read.  For example:

                                                                Action goes

Judy shot an arrow into the woods.                                    Left to right

Susan and Jeremy like playing with their dogs.                 Left to right

(You) Put the leftovers in the refrigerator.                         Left to right

Passive Voice

Sentences whose action flows from right to left – the opposite of the way we usually speak – have a problem we call passive voice.

                         Action goes

An arrow was shot by Judy.                            Right to left

The trophy was won by Cressita                     Right to left

Passive Voice and No Act-or

The usual time that passive voice occurs is when there is no one stated doing the action.

                                                               Action goes

The leftovers were put in the refrigerator (by someone)   Right to left

Next, the statue was stood up (by someone)                     Right to left

Okay Passive Voice

Not all passive voice is bad. In some cases, it is not necessary to have an act-or. For example: The company was started in 1874.

Task 5.17.1 Individual or Small Group Activity

Determine if the action flows left to right or right to left.

  1. Bob threw the ball.
  2. The ball was thrown by Bob.
  3. The ball was thrown.
  4. Preheat the oven to 375°.
  5. The oven is then preheated to 375°.

Fixing Passive Voice

To fix passive voice problems –

      • Write in a natural way.
      • Don’t worry about making some sentences long and some short.
      • Usually try to have someone doing the action of the sentence.

Write in a Natural Way

Writing and speaking should sound the same in terms of syntax.  For instance, most people do not say, Next, the cookies are then placed in the oven. They say, Next, place the cookies in the oven. We should write the same way.

Don’t Worry About Sentence Length

Students sometime try to vary their sentence length. In fact, some teachers or textbooks stress that. However, if you concentrate on what you have to say, then sentences will be of varying lengths anyway.

Usually Have Someone Doing the Action

Usually place the person or thing doing the action at the beginning of a sentence.

Passive: The wine was placed on the table by the wine steward.
Active: The wine steward placed the wine on the table.

When giving directions, usually drop you.
Ineffective: You next nail the boards together.
Effective: Next, nail the boards together.

Task 5.17.3 – Individual or Small Group

Change passive voice to active voice in the following if passive voice exists. Do not change the sentences’ meanings.

  1. The letter was signed by Jennifer, the teacher’s aide, in the teacher’s absence.
  2. Over 125,000 units were delivered last year in China by our company.
  3. Each loaf of bread is weighed by the baker’s assistant.
  4. Please arrange a meeting for Thursday at 9 a.m.
  5. The merger was approved by the stockholders
  6. Two coffee breaks per four-hour period are allowed the employees by the company.
  7. In tomorrow’s newspaper your article will be published by us.
  8. The CEO was informed by the vice president that the products did not arrive.
  9. I should be ready by nine o’clock.
  10. The free books will be shipped by truck once the school is formally opened by the school board.
  11. Next, the sugar is sprinkled over the newly baked cookies.
  12. Please buy ten dozen cupcakes for the festival.

Task 5.17.4 – Individual or Tandem

Smooth the sentences of your Billy Mills Variable 1 so the prose reads easily.