Meaning First: A Functional Handbook of Fifty Ways to Polish Your Writing

Meaning First cover image
Meaning First: A Functional Handbook of Fifty Ways to Polish Your Writing

Carolyn G. Hartnett, College of the Mainland

2000, 112 pages, paper, spiral bound, $22.95 (list). ISBN 0-9644636-7-9. Instructor’s Manual available.
View Table of Contents Below
Meaning First is a concise rhetoric and handbook that takes students step-by-step from generating and developing an idea to final editing. Meaning First covers the topics treated by traditional handbooks, but in a functional way. Instead of rules, Meaning First shows patterns and how they work; it explains reasons for choosing one pattern instead of another. In the tradition of Hallidayan linguistics, it combines rhetoric and grammar in a functional approach, assuming that grammar expresses meaning.

Meaning First gathers and assembles information from students through a series of 50 “probes.” Each probe consists of a series of questions or suggestions (over 300 in all) that students must respond to as they plan, draft, and revise their writing. Questions or directions in the text’s left-hand margin explore a particular aspect of the draft and suggest how to make improvements. Each probe also has a section labeled “Help” that explains more fully how choices influence readers and how the writer can make the draft work as it should.

Meaning First is especially designed for students in college composition. However, other writers will also find it useful, especially those from nontraditional backgrounds (e.g., students in basic writing or ESL courses).

–Frequent cross-references to other probes.
–Probes can be used in any order.
–Examples throughout illustrate strategies at both the sentence and essay level.
–Special charts and lists for verb forms, irregular verbs, and easily confused words.
–Numerous exercises throughout each chapter.
–Illustrates MLA and APA documentation styles.

Meaning First: Table of Contents

The organization of this handbook

Chapter One: Making Your Draft Fit Your Situation and Purpose
Probe Number

  1. What do want to accomplish with your writing?
  2. Who are your readers, and how do you relate to them?
  3. What method and style of language will best communicate your message?
  4. What do readers expect in writing like yours?
  5. What kinds of information should you include?
  6. Have you started a draft?

Chapter Two: Organizing Your Thinking

  1. Have you taken time for systematic thinking?
  2. Are you efficiently planning and organizing any necessary library research?
  3. Are you using effective persuasive techniques?
  4. Have you introduced readers to what you have to say?
  5. Have you organized effective paragraphs?
  6. Have you structured your draft to stand alone?

Chapter Three: Packing Information in Sentences

  1. Does every statement have a core of a subject and a verb that a tag question can identify?
  2. Are core sentences either separated with punctuation or connected properly?
  3. Do the beginnings of sentences organize the flow of information about your topic?
  4. Is everything you name sufficiently identified or described?
  5. Are circumstances and details placed where they fit best?

Chapter Four: Relating to the Reader, the Time, and the Truth with Verbs

  1. Do your verbs report what you intend: doing, thinking, or being?
  2. Have you indicated appropriately any action completed in the past?
  3. Do the verb forms tell whether the action is usual and done by a single actor? 
  4. Do the verbs distinguish any action going on at a particular time rather than always?
  5. Do the verbs indicate any past action that you want to relate to past or present time?
  6. Have you adjusted any verbs that are not already true?
  7. Have you commanded, asked, emphasized, or denied smoothly and effectively?
  8. Do you recognize any words that name or describe but look like verbs? 
    Is there a good reason whenever the actor is omitted or named after the verb?
  9. Have you used irregular verb forms appropriately?
  10. Does the form of each verb fit its patterns, and do any changes match changes in meaning?

Chapter Five: Making Your Writing Friendly to Readers

  1. Do sentences flow from a recognizable start to a newsworthy point at the end?
  2. Have you chosen appropriate wording to control the flow of information?
  3. Does your wording show the transitions between sentences?
  4. Do pronouns have clear references and appropriate forms and numbers?
  5. Do you relate best to your readers by referring to them, yourself, or only the topic?
  6. Have you avoided exclusive and offensive terms?
  7. Have you shown the right degree of formality?
  8. Is your wording as brief and precise as your readers want it to be? 
  9. Have you distinguished confusing words?

Chapter Six: Clarifying Complicated Thoughts

  1. Have you chosen the most appropriate type of words for processes and actions?
  2. Have you described clearly with or without adding –LY?
  3. Are comparisons and lists organized, clear, complete, and worded with similar forms?
  4. Have you taken notes and quoted properly?
  5. Have you specified your sources?

Chapter Seven: Polishing the Physical Appearance of Your Writing

  1. Does the physical appearance of your writing attract readers?
  2. Does every sentence end with the proper punctuation: period, question mark, exclamation point, semicolon (or maybe a colon)?
  3. Do commas set off movable and optional parts of a sentence?
  4. Is every word spelled correctly?
  5. Are capitals used conventionally?
  6. Have you used the apostrophe and the letter S correctly?
  7. Are any hyphens, dashes, or parentheses appropriately placed?
  8. Can you make further improvements during a final editing?

Index of Topics

Index of Words

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