So often, in a long piece of writing, there are paragraphs that refuse to flow. When you read them aloud, you stumble. If you’re busy and stressed, the temptation is to pretend the paragraph is fine. Resist temptation! Go through the paragraph underlining the words (usually nouns, verbs and short phrases) that form the subject of the paragraph, i.e. words that MUST be included. Leave out fillers and connectors. Take the underlined words and either type them out of order on a rough sheet, or print them out, cut them up and shuffle them. Leave your desk for half an hour, or, if you’re up against a deadline, work on a different part of the thesis/essay/report. Return to the shuffled words. Ask yourself ‘what’s the point I’m trying to make with these words?’ Rewrite, adding only enough extra words for the paragraph to make sense. Read it aloud again, and with luck, this little trick will have smoothed out the ruts.
Finessing an argument and spotting typos need different mindsets. Whether you’re writing an essay or a PhD, you need to be the editor as well as the author.
Each paragraph is a building block in your argument.
I’m always reading about the tyranny of the blank page, the terror of starting something new. But once you’ve got going, when you’re drafting, and especially when you’re editing, the blank page can be your friend. When I can’t see why a paragraph or a sentence isn’t working, I cut and paste it into a…