In a previous post, I talked about a drafting strategy that helps me resolve issues with muddled paragraphs. I use questions that help me identify things to change, remove, or improve about paragraphs that are causing me problems. In this post, I want to go through an example to illustrate what I mean. The questions I use are:
- What is this paragraph really saying?
- How does this help me answer the question or problem I’m addressing?
- How significant or essential is this point?
- How is it related to the material that precedes and follows it?
Overall, the question is: So what?
Here’s an example of a paragraph that I used this method with. The text is from my own PhD in English literature, but you don’t need to read it in detail, it’s just an illustration of my approach.
Of course, I wouldn’t be this brutal on a piece of work that a student brought into the WDC! I’m able to be this critical here because it is my own work.
I wasn’t happy with it because it was trying to do too much at once. When I thought about what the paragraph was really about, I concluded that it was about one specific way that a particular movie was critical of American torture in the war on terror. The really key bit is the relationship between the quote from Cheney in the middle and a bit of dialogue from the film which echoes his words. However, there is other stuff getting in the way: the remarks about the film’s reception don’t add much, and a lot of the beginning of the paragraph is pretty vague. My concluding sentences also don’t really feel like they follow from the evidence that precedes them. I needed to tighten this up.
Armed with these decisions, I started typing.
It looks like a lot of editing. All I really did, though, was reorient the paragraph around the piece of information that I thought was most interesting: the relationship between Cheney’s remarks and the dialogue. I’d looked at each part of the paragraph and thought So What?
- I cut out an unnecessary explanatory footnote and a sentence about the reception of the movie – I’d only put that stuff in there to show that I knew it, and not to help my argument. When I asked So What, I didn’t have a good answer about this information.
- Likewise, I removed the term “heteroglossia”. I hadn’t defined it, and it was only there as a bit of jargon that made my argument less clear.
- The quote from Cheney is interesting, in fact the key piece of information here. But in the first draft I’d assumed that a reader would just “get it”, and understand why I had included it without my having to explain it at all. I also had not reminded the reader about the connection to the topic of my essay. Asking So What helped me identify what was missing from these sections.
- At the top of the paragraph I had to tell the reader what the paragraph was about. I had sort of done this the first time round, but actually I hadn’t been as specific as I had thought. By making a decision about doing one thing at a time, and not lots of things simultaneously, I made both the beginning and the conclusion a bit clearer.
Here’s the final paragraph without all the red boxes and blue lines.
Posted by Alex