"But being right, even morally right, isn't everything. It is also important to be competent, to be consistent, and to be knowledgeable. It's important for your soldiers and diplomats to speak the language of the people you want to influence. It's important to understand the ethnic and tribal divisions of the place you hope to assist."
Tuesday, February 7, 2012
Paper on three most important elements in a paper
Following is an assignment for my research and writing class. The professor asked us to write a short paper on the three essential elements of a well-written paper. The difficulty of this task surprised me.
While Elmore Leonard is best known as a writer of fiction, his statement, “I try to leave out the parts that people skip,” speaks to writers of every genre. Such advice is timeless and sage because all writers’ ultimate goal is for people to read their work—all of their work. Regardless of genre, a well-written work accomplishes three goals: it employs the active voice, varies its sentence structure, and is a product of revision. When authors stray from the first goal and use the passive voice instead of the active, the effect is insidious because the focus shifts from the narrative, forcing the readers to search (often in vain) for the subject. There are cases that call for the passive voice, such as when the subject needs to remain in the background; however, these cases are the exceptions. While the active voice focuses the readers’ attention, sentence variety provides readers with a rhythm and syncopation to guide them through the paper. Alternating the length of the sentences is not enough; of equal importance, writers must adjust the sentence structure. Thoughtful departures from the routine subject-verb-object sentence give a paper complexity and engage readers.
Revise, Revise, Revise
Neither goal is accomplished, though, without revision. Only ignorant and lazy writers believe their first effort to be their final one. Revision is the opportunity for writers to read through their work and make necessary corrections. During this process, authors ferret out derelict passive phrases and inspect each sentence for variety in length and structure. At this point, the best writers put down their papers and walk away, for at least an hour or two, or, better yet, a day or more. This distance and time allow writers to return to their work with a fresh eye, providing them better context in which to edit their work. Key to all of these elements is time. The polish of a superior paper reflects the lengthy and dedicated process of revision and correction. While writing well is a difficult endeavor, reading should not be.