Go Global & Local: Revising the Argument Essay

We are coming to the end of our term here at MCC, and students are putting the finishing touches on their final papers. Your instructor might have suggested to focus on “global” concerns, and save the “local” revisions for last. But what exactly does this mean in plain speak?

A “global” concern is the big picture of the essay. Are all the elements working together – development, focus, organization – to create a well thought-out essay? First, read the essay (preferably aloud) and only concentrate on the overall large – global – perspective. Answer the following questions, starting with the larger issues and working your way to the more specific. Checking for global concerns requires at least two read-throughs.

On the third and final read, you’ll only check for sentence-level – Local – concerns. Focus only on grammar and punctuation now. Why not fix the sentence mechanics as you check for global concerns? Because often you’ll be adding or cutting large blocks of text. Why correct grammar and punctuation when you’re not sure what will stay or what will go?  Don’t worry about editing until the draft is exactly as you want it. Follow the guidelines below to polish your paper like an expert.

Global Concerns

First Read:

Is the thesis clear and well stated?
Is the overall organization logical?
Are the paragraphs logically structured?
Do the paragraphs utilize topic sentences?
Do the topic sentences relate back to the thesis?
Are transitions smooth between paragraphs?
Are all ideas fully developed?
Are all claims supported with ample evidence?

Once you have determined everything is working well on the first read, go back and read again for more specific global concerns, breaking a long essay into manageable chunks.

 Second Read:


Does the introduction offer background and/or history of your topic?
Does the reader know immediately what the topic is?
Is the thesis stated after the topic has been introduced?


Does each body paragraph only discuss one topic?
Does each body paragraph relate back and support thesis?
Does each body paragraph offer ample, well-documented support?
Are transitions smooth between sentences?


Does the conclusion restate (but in different language) the claim?
Does the conclusion avoid repetition or redundancy?
Does the conclusion end with a call to action, or other appropriate concluding remarks?

Local Concerns 

Now it’s time to concentrate on sentence-level mechanics. Look closely at spelling, punctuation, grammar, and usage. Try reading through the essay out of order – conclusion to intro. This slows you down and makes you concentrate more fully on each word.

Third Read

Run spell check. Any red squiggles? Do you understand all the green squiggles?

If you have problems with word confusion – words like their and there, or were, wear and where – use the “Editing” button on the right of the toolbar. Under the “Find,” type in the words you confuse and check to make sure you’ve used them correctly. If you are prone to use second person “you,” run a “Find” on that as well, and any other problem words.

Have you used any semi-colons? Are you positive you’ve used them correctly? A semi-colon is the most misused punctuation.

Commas have rules of usage; don’t just randomly place them where it looks like you might need one. If in doubt, leave it out.

Is all formatting following the guidelines of the assignment (MLA; APA)?

Final Thoughts

Sometimes it’s best to put a paper aside for a day or two to take a break from it and gain a fresh perspective. We often read our essay so much we lose sight of what we are reading. If you’ve followed these steps and you feel you’ve given attention to each detail, let it go. Stand up. Stretch. Say a prayer to the writing fairies and turn it in. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done.
You deserve it.



All About Topic Sentences

Just as your paper needs a guiding thesis statement to unify your essay, each paragraph needs a topic sentence to unify each section. They not only help to keep each paragraph cohesive, but also help your reader maintain focus on your overall argument, claim, or narrative theme.

Most often (though not always) the topic sentence is in the beginning of the paragraph. A strong topic sentence works to maintain the controlling idea in each paragraph. Without it, the paragraph will not only fall apart, but the paper can also fall apart as well. Think about what you want each paragraph to communicate; this is the controlling idea that focuses each paragraph. Each paragraph will connect back and support the thesis.

Lack of cohesive paragraphs is one of the most common problems with student writing. Each paragraph should have only ONE topic. In a research paper, each paragraph will argue or support only ONE point. Study the paragraph structure in one of your essays; if the paragraphs have several different ideas going on, each of those separate ideas need their own paragraph. In research papers, they need their own support and research. In longer research papers you might take more than one paragraph to argue a point, such as giving support or research. In this case, it’s okay to omit the topic sentence from a paragraph that is continuing in a line of inquiry or argument, though it’s important to have a transitional sentence to lead the reader along with you.

Topic Sentence Example

Topic sentences often act like tiny thesis statements. Like a thesis statement, a topic sentence makes a claim of some sort. As the thesis statement is the unifying force in the essay, so the topic sentence must be the unifying force in the paragraph. Further, as is the case with the thesis statement, when the topic sentence makes a claim, the paragraph which follows must expand, describe, or prove it in some way. Topic sentences make a point and give reasons or examples to support it.

Consider the last paragraph about topic sentences, beginning with the topic sentence itself:

Topic sentences often act like tiny thesis statements.

This is my claim, or the point I will prove in the following paragraph. All the sentences that follow this topic sentence must relate to it in some way.

Like a thesis statement, a topic sentence makes a claim of some sort. As the thesis statement is the unifying force in the essay, so the topic sentence must be the unifying force in the paragraph.

These two sentences show how the reader can compare thesis statements and topic sentences: they both make a claim and they both provide a focus for the writing which follows.

Further, as is the case with the thesis statement, when the topic sentence makes a claim, the paragraph which follows must expand, describe, or prove it in some way.

Using the transitional word “further” to relate this sentence to those preceding it, I expand on my topic sentence by suggesting ways a topic sentence is related to the sentences that follow it.

Topic sentences make a point and give reasons or examples to support it.

Finally, I wrap up the paragraph by stating exactly how topic sentences act rather like tiny thesis statements.
(Example from U of Ottowa)

One Last Word

Paragraphs come in many shapes and sizes, but the guiding principle on paragraph structure should always come back to the topic sentence. When revising your essay, ask yourself, is all of the information in this paragraph directly relating to the topic sentence? If not, get it out. Focus, focus, focus. Your readers will thank you.

Everything you ever wanted to know about HYPHENS but were afraid to ask

Read the following sentence, and try to determine exactly what it means:

He was a man eating shark.


Is it a shark that eats humans? Or is it a man who is eating shark meat?

The example above is a man who eats shark meat, because there is no hyphen.

He was a man-eating shark is a shark that eats humans, and we know this because “man-eating” is hyphenated, thus describing the kind of shark it is.

So what exactly are the rules to using hyphens?

Unfortunately, there is no definitive guide for hyphen usage. Different style manuals show different guidelines, and hyphen usage has changed over the years. Words that previously were hyphenated no longer require hyphenation. In 2007, the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary removed the hyphens from 16,000 entries. With the advent of computer technology, words that were previously hyphenated now are one word, such as hyperlink and toolbar. However, use of the hyphen is still required for compound adjective constructions, the most common use of hyphens.

Uses of a Hyphen

Use a hyphen in a compound adjective beginning with an adverb. Spaces are not used between the hyphen and the words it is separating:

Best-known work
American-football player
Ill-prepared student
Well-liked celebrity

In the examples above, two words are working together to describe, or modify, the noun that follows it. Without the hyphen, there is potential confusion about whether the writer means a “work that is best known” or “known work that is best,” or whether the writer means a “player of American football” or an “American player of football.”

Be careful of where the compound adjectives are in the sentence. If the compound adjective comes after the noun, DO NOT hyphenate it:

The work was the composer’s best known.
The player of American football scored a field goal.
The student was ill prepared.
 The celebrity was well liked.

Hyphenated compound adjectives can include multiple words, such as flavor-of-the-month club or ice-cream-flavored candy.


Use hyphens when connecting numbers and words in modifying phrases, such as age, weight or measurements, regardless of whether you write the number out in words or use numerals:

50-year-old man

Fifty-year-old man

300-foot tower

Three-hundred-foot tower

Line Breaks

When typing text, sometimes it is preferable to break a long, multi-syllable word apart at the end of a line rather than leave a large white space. A hyphen is used at a syllable break point to allow the word to be broken apart and run onto the next line:

Although writers of research
papers should include paren-
thetical references, they also
need a Works Cited page.

When NOT to use Hyphens

When using familiar compound terms, avoid hyphens between the familair terms:

Social security tax
high school reunion

What is the difference between a hyphen and dash?

The most common use of a hyphen is between two words in a compound adjective. The dash – or em dash – is not the same as a hyphen; it acts as a sharp break within a sentence, like the example in the previous sentence. 

On most word processing programs, typing two hyphen automatically convert into a longer dash. You can also hit “Control” and “-” (the minus key) at the same time on the number pad of a keyboard to create a dash. Creative writers and poets often use dashes for effect. Emily Dickinson is known as Miss Dash, as she used an abundance of dashes in her poetry, as shown in “Hope” is a Thing with Feathers:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –  

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –  

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me. 

Note that the dashes are separated from the surrounding words by spaces, unlike hyphens.

Remember to always refer to a style manual if you’re not sure what requires hyphenation. Now that you know everything about hyphens, test yourself or your classmates. Look at the hyphens in the following examples. They each have to same words, but each means something different. Do you know the difference?

Five-hundred-year-old trees

Five hundred-year-old trees

Five-hundred year-old trees


Don’t Dangle!

How to Identify and Fix Dangling Modifiers

Covered with hot melted cheese, we ate the pizza.
(Ouch! That hot cheese must have hurt!)

Smashed beyond repair, Bert saw his watch lying on the court.
(Poor Bert!)








We saved the scraps of meat for the dog that had been left on our plates.

   (How did the dog get on their plates?)



The hunter crouched behind a tree waiting for a bear to come along with a bow and arrow.

         (I’d hide from a bear carrying a bow and arrow too!)   

Can you identify the dangling modifiers in the examples above?

A modifier describes, clarifies, or gives more detail about something. In the examples above, obviously it was the pizza that had hot melted cheese, not the person eating it. Bert wasn’t smashed, his watch was. The scraps of meat were on the plates, obviously not the dog, and a bear can’t carry a bow and arrow.

A dangling or misplaced modifier, is a word, phrase, or clause that is improperly separated from the word it modifies or describes. This awkward wording can not only cause confusion, but is also quite often illogical.

How to Correct Your Dangling Modifiers

Misplaced modifiers can usually be corrected by moving the modifier to a more sensible place in the sentence, generally next to the word it modifies.

In the first example, move the modifier closer to what it modifies:

We ate the pizza that was covered in hot melted cheese.

In the second example, move the modifying clause closer to the watch that it modifies:

Bert saw his watch, smashed beyond repair, lying on the court.

How might you correct the others?

Sometimes, just one word can cause confusion, as in the misplaced modifier examples below:

Leaving the mall, Emily found a gold man’s ring.


In this example, Emily found a ring belonging to a gold man. Of course not, so just move the modifier, gold, immediately before the word it describes, ring.

Leaving the mall, Emily found a man’s gold ring.



How would you fix this example? Identify the modifier and the item it is modifying:

The torn woman’s coat lay on the seat.

To correct the misplaced modifier, move the object closer to what it is modifying:

The woman’s torn coat lay on the seat.

Be Careful of Altering Meaning

Take care when correcting misplaced modifiers that you don’t create two differing meanings:

The professor said on Thursday he would return our portfolios.

Did the professor say this on Thursday OR will he return them on Thursday?

On Thursday, the professor said he would return our portfolios.

Avoid these illogical (and amusing) mistakes by carefully proofreading your writing. Think about what you are trying to describe, and ask yourself if you have placed any modifying words are phrases in the best position in the sentence.

 Try correcting the dangling modifiers below. How did you do?

  1.  After having been run through the computer, the researcher used the figures for his report.
  2.  Returning after a year out of the country, my cat did not even know me.
  3.  I held the ticket tightly in my hand that my friend gave me.
  4.  After dancing solo on stage, the audience applauded Anna’s performance.
  5.  Totally destroyed by the tornado, he had to rebuild his barn. 

Do you have any amusing experiences with dangling modifiers? Share your goof – all in good fun!