Ratiocination: A Color-Coded Process to Editing

12 Steps to Better Writing


Ratiocination is a revision strategy used to make writing better. Specifically, the strategy uses a (color) coding system that helps you visualize certain habits, mistakes, and writing skills and includes several techniques to improve what you have written.  Not all of the items will be used for each document you will write.


  1.  Circle all “to be” verbs in a color (am, are, is, was, were, be, been, being, become, became). Then count up the number that you circled. Divide this number by two (round up if needed). This number is the amount that will need to be eliminated. Write this number at the top of the page on the right hand side. Rewrite all the rest without using a “to be” verb. This step helps move writing from passive to active voice and strengthens the presentation of your ideas.


  1.  Use an “X” to mark out every time you use the words “very, really, a lot.” These words do not add or tell the reader anything. Use more definite descriptors.


  1.  Underline any sentence that starts with “there is,” “there are,” “this is,” “those are,” “it is,” and “it was” and revise and eliminate these weak and overused phrases. Cross out every “I think” or “in my opinion;” the entire paper is your opinion.


  1.  Circle all personal pronouns (I, you, your, me, mine, we, our, us) and eliminate, unless the assignment was to write in the 1st In that case, it’s okay to have “I” but eliminate the rest.


  1.  Put a {bracket} around the first word or phrase in each sentence. Write this word in the margin on the same line. Read down the list to see if your sentences all start the same way. Rewrite any sentence that begins this way more than twice, and never start two sentences in a row with the same word or phrase unless it is for effect or transition.


  1.  Draw a triangle ê around pronouns “it,” “they,” or “some,” each time you use them. Look for a more definite noun if the word the pronoun is referring to is not clear. “Many,” and “people” are sometimes used this way as well; be more specific.


  1.  Draw a wavy line ~~ under any repeated words or phrases that appear more than three times. Try to eliminate or change them.


  1.  In the margin, number the paragraphs on the same line that each one begins. This step checks for paragraphs that contain multiple ideas (the paragraphs will be very long) and aids with organizational strategy. Your document should be an average of 3 -5 paragraphs per page.


  1.  In two different colors, underline or highlight alternating sentences beginning with the first word in each sentence and ending with the end Use two contrasting colors. Doing this step helps you identify if your sentences are too long or too short. Check any sentence that looks very short to ensure it has both actor (noun) and action (verb) and is a complete thought. Check unusually long sentences to ensure they are not run-ons or comma splices. Try to make them into compound sentences by using FANBOYS (the conjunctions – for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) or make them into complex sentences by using (however, before, because, after, if, since, etc). Each paragraph should average 2-5 sentences, depending on your academic discipline’s writing style/writing manual.


  1.  Underline every instance of “the company,” “here at (company name),” and “the individual’s name you are writing to” as well as any other acronym or name in your paper. Ensure that apostrophes are correctly used for possessives and not for plurals. When writing a salutation, only use the person’s title and last name.


  1.  Read your paper backwards to check for spelling/typos. Start at the end of your paper and read from bottom to top, right to left. Reading this way keeps the focus on the single word and not on the context of the writing. Run the spell check, but never depend solely on it.


  1.  Read your paper from beginning to end for spelling/typos. This time look specifically for homophones (their, they’re, there; to, two, too), double words and missing words. The computer does not catch these errors.


Transitional Expressions


Additionmoreover, further, furthermore, besides, and, and then, likewise, also, nor, too, again, in addition, equally important, next, first, secondly, thirdly, finally, last, lastly


Contrastbut, yet, and yet, however, still, nevertheless, on the other hand, on the contrary, after all, not withstanding, for all that, in contrast to this, at the same time, although this may be true


Comparisonsimilarly, likewise, in a like manner


Purposeto this end, for this purpose, with this object


Resulthence, therefore, accordingly, consequently, thus, thereupon, wherefore


Timemeanwhile, at length, immediately, soon, after, after a few days, in the meantime, afterward


Placehere, beyond, nearby, opposite to, adjacent to, on the opposite side


Summary, Repetition, Exemplification, Intensificationto sum up, in brief, on the whole, in sum, in short, as I have said, in other words, to be sure, as has been noted, for example, for instance, in fact, indeed, in any event