Years ago, I attended a weekend workshop for instructors of college composition that was led by Professor Richard Lanham, author of Revising Prose , visiting from UCLA, and Professor Joseph Williams, author of Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace , visiting from the University of Chicago. They presented witty and lucid summaries of their books, Lanham focusing on revising at the sentence level and Williams on paragraphs. Although their books have gone through several editions since, the core concepts remain the same. Both self-teaching books are on my Amazon Listmania’s list “Expository Writing: Top Ten Books.”
In the preface to “Revising Prose (5th edition)” Lanham notes: “Writing may have been invented to keep bureaucratic accounts….As the world has become bureaucratized, so has its language….Revising Prose was written as a supplementary text for any course that requires writing. Because it addresses a single discrete style, “Revising Prose” can be rule-based to a degree that prose analysis rarely permits. This set of rules — the Paramedic Method –in turn allows the book to be self-teaching.”
In each of the five editions of “Revising Prose,” Lanham added fresh examples and exercises to its core content: the Paramedic Method comprising eight steps as follows.
1. Circle the prepositions;
2. Circle the “is” forms;
3. Find the action;
4. Put this action in a simple (not compound) active verb;
5. Start fast – no slow windups;
6. Read the passage aloud with emphasis and feeling;
7. Write out each sentence on a blank screen or sheet of paper and mark off its basic rhythmic units with a “/”;
8. Mark off sentence length with a “/.”
Basically, Lanham’s Paramedic Method advises you to delete prepositional phrases and “is” forms and replace them with active verbs.
Below are four brief examples and a test-yourself exercise from the book.