Often when we are editing, we come across sentences that we can revise in several ways. When we cannot easily select a particular revision, we employ a strategy we call R & R, which stands for “Rephrase and Replace.”
Rephrasing the sentence is creating a new sentence that follows the same sentence structure as the original and that contains the same problematic words. We do this so that we can evaluate the structure and word choice in a simpler, easier to understand sentence.
For example, we were recently revising a sentence and came up with two options. Option one was “The book is fearless as it rips through the veils of illusion.” Option two was “The book is fearless. It rips through the veils of illusion.” We were having a difficult time deciding which option we preferred. The main reason we were having a hard time deciding is that the context of the sentence was unfamiliar to us.
We used the Rephrase part of this strategy to rephrase each option, giving them a more familiar context. The first option is one long sentence with two parts joined by the word “as”. We rephrased this as, “The man was fearless as he walked into his boss’s office,” because we wanted to simplify the context. This proxy (i.e., substitute) sentence, like option one, is one long sentence with two parts joined by the word “as.” The second option is two short sentences divided by a period. We rephrased this as, “The man was fearless. He walked into his boss’s office.” This proxy sentence, like option two, is two short sentences divided by a period.
When examining these two proxy sentences, we noticed that each one conveyed a slightly different meaning. The first one seemed to indicate fearlessness during a specific event. The second one seemed to indicate a general fearlessness, and, perhaps, an example of that fearlessness. We believe that the first meaning was more representative of the author’s intention than the second.
This completed the rephrasing part of this strategy.
Replacing means replacing the words of the rephrased sentence with the applicable words from the original sentence, while keeping the same sentence structure. Thus, we replaced the words “The man” with the words “The book,” and the words “he walked into his boss’s office” with the words “rips through the veils of illusion.”
Having used the Rephrase and Replace strategy we were able to make our choice: “The book is fearless as it rips through the veils of illusion.”
When you edit your writing, see if the R & R strategy is useful to you. This simple strategy has helped us revise unclear writing into easy-to-understand writing. It has also helped us determine which potential revision, among several, will most effectively communicate the author’s meaning.
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