How to Revise Body Paragraphs

Summary

Revising body paragraphs requires you to know the mission of your thesis. Body paragraphs are the center of your essays.  Without them, you would just have introduction and conclusion paragraphs and nothing else to support your purpose for writing.

I use the word “mission” to refer to the thesis, because you have been given a mission.  Your professors gave you an assignment and that assignment has multiple requirements. You must be able to coordinate your professor’s mission with that of your own for the paper.  Here are a few steps to consider as you revise your body paragraphs:

Step 1:  Count the parts in your topic sentence.

The topic sentence should always support the thesis.  It doesn’t support the quotes you incorporate or other ideas that you use within a body paragraph.  Everything after your topic sentence should only support your topic sentence.  This sounds weird to write, but it is true.  The mission of your topic sentence is just to support your thesis.

Therefore, count the parts of your first, second, third, and maybe fourth topic sentence of each body paragraph.  Number them with a red pen.  Then go back to your introduction paragraph and number the parts of your thesis.  Ask yourself if the numbered parts of the topic sentences correspond to the numbered parts of the thesis.  If they do, good job!  If they don’t, you have one of two options:

  • Revise the thesis.
  • Revise the topic sentence(s).

Once you are able to understand the purpose of each of your topic sentences, move forward with revising sentence structure.

Step 2:  Evaluate the quotes for verb tense.

Quotes can be fun in the beginning.  They fill up the page.  They help you meet your word and page count.  In addition, you add the citation at the end of the sentence and this makes reaching the goal of fulfilling the page count that much easier.  You feel very good about yourself. On the other hand, what happens if the quote doesn’t fit? You have this wonderful white sock that is nice and clean and smells good.  Then you have this off-white sock.  It appears to be like the white sock, but when you hold it up to the light, the color tells the real story.

The same can be said about the quotes you incorporate within your essays.  The white sock is your statement.  Your statement could be in the form of an analysis or just a statement to introduce the quote.  The off-white sock is the quote.  It seems to fit because, of course, you were able to type it into your paper.  However, look more closely.  Examine your statement.  Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What verbs do I use for my introductory statement?
  • What verb tense is the quoted material?

Too many variations in verb tense can seriously distort the mission of your thesis.  Everything goes back to the thesis.  As a preliminary solution, revise for verb tense.

Step 3:  Evaluate the quotes for topic sentence collaboration.

Teams must work together.  The thesis and the topic sentence work as a team.  The quotes within the body paragraphs work to support this team.  Therefore, the quotes within the body paragraph must support the topic sentence.  One member out of step messes up the other steps.

In other words, all topic sentences are good friends of the thesis.  All statements you make within the body paragraphs should be, in general, all good friends of the thesis just by association.  When there comes a time in your paper that an enemy presents itself you must make sure that the reader understands that a particular quote represents an enemy.

For example, we all believe that Jane is nice, lovely, and friendly.  This is our thesis.  For each quality of Jane, we provide a topic sentence and dedicate a body paragraph.  We further add support to prove our point.  Everything is fine until John decides not to agree on one of our points concerning Jane’s qualities. John believes that Jane is not lovely and he has proof to support his claim.

When this happens, you don’t integrate John into your paper as if he is a good friend.  He’s an enemy.  You tell every other team member in your paper who John is.  Once you have provided an explanation of John, return to your mission, which is to prove or support the idea that Jane is nice, lovely, and friendly.

Don’t get off the mission when confronted with an enemy.

Step 4:  Evaluate sections of analysis.

The main purpose for writing the academic (English) essay is to provide an analysis.  Your professor requires you to do this.  Therefore, your task is to do the following:

  • Examine the statement you make before a quote.
  • Examine the quote.
  • Examine the statement you make after the quote.

You must always address the outsider, whether the outsider supports your thesis or disagrees with your thesis.  A quote is still considered to be an outsider in the beginning.  You make it a part of the team when you ensure that it supports your thesis.  Ask yourself the following questions as you revise the body paragraph:

  • What’s the purpose of this body paragraph?  Why is it here?

Now answer the questions.  Add more explanation.  Discuss the significance of the quote. Either believe in it or don’t.  Make this a point in your essay.

Step 5:  Evaluate MLA formatting.

All words that are not your own must be cited properly.  Refer to your current MLA handbook for the following common areas:

  • 3.7. Quotations
  • 3.7.5. Ellipsis
  • 3.7.6. Other Alterations of Sources
  • 3.7.7. Punctuation with Quotations

These four represent areas of your essay for which you will have to develop revision objectives.

Warnings

  • The quickest way to fail a paper is to ignore MLA.  Spend time reading the reference source.  Conform to it.  You don’t have a choice!
  • Just nod and smile and be happy that you are in school.

Tips

  • When you are working with and revising body paragraphs take them one at a time.
  • Write on a piece of paper your thesis.  You may type it.
  • Identify your topic sentences and write/type them under the thesis.  Study them for agreement.
  • Take each topic sentence and match it like a sock to your statements and quotes within the body paragraph.  Make sure that they all agree.
  • Don’t forget verb tense.  How you introduce an outsider or a teammate is very important to your mission.
  • To do all of this you will need to have written the paper at least two to three days before it is due so you will have time to revise it.  I prefer at least a week.
  • Don’t forget to eat.  Sleep and rest.  Get back up.  Confront the task.  Finish it.  Meet all deadlines and submit your paper.
  • Smile.

About the Author

Regina Y. Favors is the CEO and Chief Instructional Designer of Favors Learning Center, a learning management solutions company and registered government contractor. Regina has a master’s degree in English from San Diego State University.  In her spare time, she teaches freshmen composition and English as a Second Language at a local community college in Dallas.  She is currently developing group activity worksheets for The FAVORS Glossary and a revision writing anthology.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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