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Completeness

The flip side of the conciseness coin is the consideration of completeness in your writing.

When you write concisely, you want to ensure that you’ve said what you need to say

in as few words as possible. With completeness, you want to be sure that you haven’t left

anything unsaid. Prewriting helps a lot.

Go back and review your outline or mind-map, and compare it to your first draft. Have

you covered everything you wanted to cover? Are your main points all there? Is there any

point you’ve raised that hasn’t been fully resolved, either by answering all the questions

or by stating that there are still some unknowns or gaps in information? If you can answer

those questions appropriately, then your product is probably complete.

Look at completeness from several angles. The review process I’ve just addressed provides

a “big picture” of whether your product is complete with respect to all the major

points to be covered. But you should conduct a more detailed review of your work to

ensure that the individual paragraphs and sentences are complete.

Look for the topic sentence in each paragraph and see if all the other sentences relate

to it and complete the thought it introduced. Remember that the topic sentence is the main

idea or central assertion of the paragraph; but without substantiating evidence in the form

of follow-on sentences to expand upon or clarify the assertion it makes, the paragraph

may be incomplete. The reader will be confused if the topic sentence introduces a thought

and the remainder of the paragraph fails to carry that thought to completion. It’s like starting

your car, revving the engine, and then just letting it idle. The engine warms up, but

you don’t go anywhere.

Carry your search for completeness down to the individual sentence. There is a fine line

between completeness and correctness in the student writing examples that follow. They

could have been used to illustrate incorrect usages, but I chose to use them here in conjunction

with the principle of completeness because they are, in fact, incomplete sentences.

“The 1985 killing of French General Rene Audran on January 25th and the killing of

German arms executive Ernst Zimmermann on February 1st by members of Direct Action

and the RAF.” (That sentence started out going somewhere, but it never got there. It is an

incomplete sentence because there’s no verb. The most common form of incomplete sentence

we notice in student papers is the lengthy one without a verb. One of your most

basic tasks in reviewing your paper for completeness should be to double-check each sentence

for its subject and verb.)

“If cuts provided a badly needed boost in public confidence in this country and slowly

seem to be succeeding.” (Watch out for the demon sentence that begins with a word like

“if,” “because,” or “although.” It introduces what is called a “dependent clause,” meaning

that it depends on something else for its existence as a sentence. The “if” clause above

needed a “then” clause to follow, such as “then the cuts would have been worthwhile.”

The easiest fix, though, is simply to omit the “if.” Read the example again without the

“if,” and you’ll see that it makes perfect sense.)

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