Assignment: Sentence Combining and Peer Editing

Instructor: James Donelan

Due date: In Class, October 26, 1999

Sentence Combining and Peer Editing Exercise

Listed below are some of the most frequent errors encountered in student writing. However, editing and revising does not consist merely in correcting errors. Often, the most important revision comes from combining sentences in ways that make them say the same thing with fewer words and demonstrate the logic and direction of your essay. Read the list below about common errors, then correct them in the sample paragraph by retyping (or copying and pasting) in the space where you normally post your papers. In addition, you should work on combining the sentences in that paragraph to improve it.

Most Frequent Errors in Student Writing

Missing introductory comma: Any introductory phrase that comes before the main subject and verb combination should be followed by a comma. In other words, it should be like this sentence.

Missing title or list of works cited: Your paper needs both every time.

Missing or superfluous commas: Your handbook has a complete description of when and how commas should be used.

Comma splice or missing semicolon; sentence boundary problem: Independent clauses must be separated by a semicolon or be made into independent sentences. Subordinate clauses are separated from other clauses by commas. Know the difference; it is extremely important.

Pronoun reference problems: Pronouns and referents must be in reasonably close proximity so that readers know what each pronoun signifies. Pronouns must agree with their antecedents; "Everyone" is singular.

Truisms: Broad and uninformative sentences, usually at the beginning of the essay, do not help you prove your point. Cut them out.

Proliferation of "to be" verbs and impersonal expressions: No one can get through the day without "to be," but when used too often, especially in topic and thesis sentences, it becomes empty and dull.

How to Know When to Combine Sentences:

Correct sentence combining cannot happen automatically; it requires taste, skill, and thought. In general, you are trying to make your essay more logical and your sentences more connected. However, several characteristics indicate that your sentences are ripe for combining:

  1. Frequent repetition of the same content words: You can usually combine two sentences in a row with the same subject or verb by using a compound subject or verb.
  2. Frequent repetition of pronouns: Use the same procedure as in No. 1, only slightly less frequently.
  3. Short, choppy sentences: You may be wandering off the track if your sentences are short and yet do not repeat words. Try organizing the paragraph differently.
  4. Lack of logical connectors, including subordinating conjunctions, correlative conjunctions, and conjunctive adverbs: If you find that your sentences hardly ever contain the elements above, you need to add more logic to your prose. The handbook contains good definitions of all of them.

Sample Paragraph

Readers have read Franz Kafka's "Jackals and Arabs" for many years. They have gained many important insights from it. One of those insights is that the difference between the oppressors and the oppressed is not as clear as it seems. In "Jackals and Arabs," as in another famous Kafka story "The Penal Colony" a visitor finds themselves in a situation in which a long-standing feud has two sides. Both sides appeal to him for help. In "Jackals and Arabs" the help would be in the form of killing Arabs. The jackal makes a good case for this help. An arab at the end suddenly shows the situation in a completely different light. This makes it impossible for the visitor to decide what to do.

Revise the paragraph above, and post the results below. Compare your paragraph with others in your group and discuss how you revised it.