Senior Seminar: Writing Workshop 3

Back to the Syllabus


Review Williams’s examples 1a and 1b on p. 46. So far we have studied how we can make a turgid prose clearer. (Remember that “turgid” is how the reader feels when she reads certain unclear prose.) Now, some texts are unclear but not turgid. According to Williams, the reader sometimes feels a prose to be disjoined, abrupt, or choppy: the prose lacks cohesion. Compare Williams’s examples 2a and 2b on p. 46.

In Chapter 3, Williams discusses ways to make a disjoined prose more cohesive.

The procedure is actually quite simple. First you arrange things into different groups depending on their makeup. Of course, one pile may be sufficient depending on how much there is to do. If you have to go somewhere else due to lack of facilities that is the next step, otherwise you are pretty well set. It is important not to overdo any particular endeavor. That is, it is better to do too few things at once than too many. In the short run this may not seem important, but complications from doing too many can easily arise. A mistake can be expensive as well. The manipulation of the appropriate mechanisms should be self-explanatory, and we need not dwell on it here. At first the whole procedure will seem complicated. Soon, however, it will become just another facet of life. It is difficult to foresee any end to the necessity for this task in the immediate future, but then one never can tell. (John D. Bransford, and Marcia K. Johnson, “Contextual prerequisites for understanding: Some investigations of comprehension and recall. Journal of Verbal Learning and Behavior 11 (1972): 717–726. The quoted passage is on p. 722.)

Homework for Workshop 4

1. Find a paragraph (or part of a paragraph) containing several sentences. It can come from your old paper or your current writing, such as a paper for another class or annotations you have made for this class. Limit the length of your paragraph to 100–150 words (the Oedipus passage above is about 130 words). You will get most out of this exercise if your example is amenable to Williams’s principles. Use the quick method on p. 23 and advice given here to identify candidate sentences.

2. Revise your paragraph for greater clarity and focus by following Williams’s principles and the ideas discussed above. Try to keep your string of subjects consistent (see pp. 38–39). Since your goal is to practice principled revision, don’t rewrite the sentences completely (see Williams’s footnote on p. 18). In other words, your revised version should retain the meaning of the original as much as possible. Try to produce one or two revised versions of the same original text. For example, different versions might use different strings of characters. Make each version credible: something you would accept as a revision of your original text.

To submit your work, follow Steps 4–6 of the previous homework. Please submit by 1pm of the day of the next workshop so that I’ll have time to look over your revisions beforehand.