A Work in Progress . . .

Below, we define many of the Key Terms that appear throughout the course of our Revision Guide. We define and unpack the terms that organize the categories of our Menu (Structure, Hierarchy, Argument, Evidence and Analysis, Key Terms, Orienting, Style, Tone, and Voice, and Clarity, Grammar, and Usage) in their introductions and, more briefly, in the introduction to the Revision Strategies Guide. We wrote these definitions through a lens conditioned by revsion and the use-value of the terms in this guide.

Each of the terms defined below links to its corresponding entry in the Index. In the Index, we list the Key Terms below in BOLD CAPS, which links to the term’s definition in the glossary, followed by hyperlinks to the Revision Strategy the term appears in.

To return to the anchor-linked alphabet below click: Site Icon

A B C Co D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S St T U V W X Y Z



Abstraction: Site Icon

  • An attempt to describe something intangible in concrete terms; more precisely, discussing a difficult or complex concept more directly, with emphasis on its larger implications, general importance, or new questions it raises.

Academic Language: Site Icon

  • Academic language differs from non-academic in the degree to which it needs to deal with very precise and rigorously defined meanings. It uses terms with agreed meanings within the discipline, and often involves defining terms in specific ways that differ from that word’s everyday meaning. The overall effect of these efforts at communicating with precise technical meanings is language that is noticeably distinct from everyday language. 

Across the Disciplines: Site Icon

  • A phrase we use to mean “cross-disciplinary” or simply to refer to something’s impact across many academic disciplines. It is also used for educational initiatives focused on teaching a skill in multiple fields (ie “writing across the disciplines”).

    Analyze/Analysis: Site Icon

    • The process of scrutinizing evidence– a book, scientific results– in order to draw a conclusion from that evidence. Analysis forms an opinion supported by sources and, unlike a summary, makes an argument based on the available evidence.

    Article Use: Site Icon


    Audience: Site Icon

    • The reader or readers who will be engaging with your work. Depending on the content, this could be a specialist (a professor reading your work for class, or a colleague in your field) or a non-expert (a hobbyist, someone in a different field, etc.) Your audience affects how much (or little) background information you need to provide.



    Central Claim : Site Icon


    Claim: Site Icon

    • When we talk about claims in academic writing, what we are really talking about are truth-claims. Truth-claims are assertions about what is true, or real, or factual about the world around us. At the end of the day, all academic writing exists to assert and evaluate the validity of truth-claims. Think of it this way: in every academic discipline, scholars seek to understand various aspects of the world around us, to understand what is true about that world. When scholars make claims, they are claiming that their assertion is true. If another scholar has reasons to doubt that claim, they may feel obliged to refute the other scholar’s truth-claim and to offer an alternative claim of their own. Only truth-claims lead people to argue and debate the facts of the world around us. 

    Clarity: Site Icon

    • The quality of being easy to understand as a result of clear communication, which can be achieved through factors including word choice, signposting, grammatical correctness, and background context. A work has clarity when its intended audience can understand its purpose, claims, and intentions without excessive rereading.

    Clause: Site Icon

    • A group of words that contains a subject and a verb; it can stand alone as a sentence or form part of a sentence.


    Complementary Claims: Site Icon

    • Complimentary claims support the primary claim without necessarily following from it. Their secondary emphasis comes not from their logical subordination to the primary claim, but from your authorial decision about the scope of the project. In other words, these are claims that support your primary claim, but are not the focus of your argument.
      • You may see phrases like: “On a related note…” “It also merits mention…” “It is worth noting…”

    Complex Sentences: Site Icon

    • A sentence with one (or more) independent clause(s) and at least one dependent clause.

    Compound Sentences: Site Icon

    • A sentence formed by two independent clauses joined together by a conjunction, most commonly, “and,” “or,” or “but.”

    Compound-Complex Sentences: Site Icon

    • A sentence with two or more independent clauses and at least one dependent clause.

    Controlling Idea: Site Icon

    • The part of your thesis or main claim which narrows your topic to one concept or idea, and conveys your approach to it.

    Context: Site Icon


    Contextual Sentences: Site Icon


    Contravening Claims: Site Icon

    • Contravening claims complicate the primary claim. They may appear superficially opposed to your argument, but when interrogated add nuance or supportive detail. They are often introduced as anticipated reader objections in order to answer questions the reader might have about your own argument. In the sciences, we often address claims of this kind in our discussion and/or conclusions when addressing the limitations of our studies or pointing to future research projects.
      • You may use language like: “The reader may object that… I contend, however…”

    Counterargument: Site Icon

    • An argument that goes against your claim, presenting a different or opposing point of view. Can be mentioned intentionally in order to acknowledge you’re aware of differing perspectives, before offering some evidence that supports your own claim and challenges the counterargument.


    Discourse: Site Icon


    Discourse Community: Site Icon

    • A group of people who share a set of assumptions (discourses) and work toward a common goal, using a shared language to do so. Academic discourse communities are usually divided by field and sub-field.

    Dissonance: Site Icon

    • A clash between two incompatible elements, either tonally or between two parts of an argument. Dissonance in argument prevents the reader from understanding what the main claim and purpose of the work is. Related to bait-and-switch.

    Drafting: Site Icon

    • Among less experienced writers, it is a common misconception to think that writing is a process of transcription in which a complete idea in one’s mind is transferred to the page (or screen) in a single step. However, writing almost never works that way. Instead, as more experienced writers know all too well, writing is itself involved in the process of thinking and rethinking the material you intend to communicate. Consider two of the words that are used as synonyms for writing: composing and drafting. When creating a piece of music, you have to hear how it sounds in order to keep thinking about how to make necessary additions and changes. Similarly, architects need to draw out (or draft) a possible building’s design in order to really consider those preliminary plans and to perceive shortcomings that need to be addressed. For the same reasons, early efforts to write something are a draft, they are a document that a writer needs to consider, evaluate, and revise. 


    Evidence: Site Icon



    Filler Phrase(s): Site Icon

    • Extra words in a sentence that don’t add substance or clarify a point.

    Free Write: Site Icon

    • A writing exercise in which you write for a specified length of time (10 minutes, 20 minutes) without editing or attending to grammatical or structural concerns. Useful for distilling your argument and summarizing complex thoughts more simply.

    Funneling: Site Icon


    Future Tense: Site Icon

    • A verb tense that expresses a future action or a state that does not yet exist.


    Guiding Purpose: Site Icon


    Grammatical Object: Site Icon

    • A noun or pronoun in a sentence that is directed by the main verb of the sentence.

    Grammatical Subject: Site Icon

    • A noun or pronoun that is “doing” the main verb of the sentence. The subject comes before the main verb.


    Holistic View: Site Icon


    High Claim: Site Icon

    • A bold claim OR one that diverges from norms of the field, or from what you have already discussed OR one that requires your audience to have a lot of background knowledge to understand/is being addressed to people outside of your field.



    Jargon: Site Icon

    • When academic writing employs technical terms either incorrectly or without defining them for the reader, the result is jargon. Often, people make the mistake of using the term “jargon” as a synonym for “academic writing.” It isn’t. Jargon is more accurately understood as the name for academic writing that uses a great deal of technical terminology, but in a way that leaves readers feeling very unclear of what is actually being said. In some cases, jargon happens when a writer with a firm command of the material simply fails to define their terms. In other cases, it happens when a writer with less command of the material uses jargon to intimidate their readers, to make their readers feel that they are at fault for not understanding. Good academic writing uses technical terms without letting readers feel like they have to deal with meaningless jargon. 



    Literature Review: Site Icon

    • A section of an essay that discusses sources about a topic in relation to each other. These sources are the scholarship of a particular field. Literature reviews may point out gaps in the existing scholarship, or they may collect the results of other studies (especially in the sciences).

    Logical Gaps: Site Icon


    Logical Sequence: Site Icon


    Logical Reasoning: Site Icon

    • The organization of claims and the transitions that connect them, which results in an ordered progression of ideas. This allows the reader to follow your argument’s development and stakes.

    Low Claim: Site Icon

    • A claim that is very commonly made, has been made by many others or has previously been addressed in your project OR one that your audience is familiar with or understands already.


    Medium Claim: Site Icon

    • A claim that is similar to one that others have made, but requires an understanding of others’ arguments or scholarship to understand OR one that requires some additional information that is not common knowledge to understand fully OR one that is being read primarily by people within your field, but not your sub-field.

    Methodology: Site Icon

    • Broadly, one’s approach to doing research (the “methods” you used to study or analyze something). Methods sections in some disciplines describe a researcher’s use of certain procedures to solve or understand a research question.

    Mirror Outlining: Site Icon

    • A strategy where you make a memory outline, then make a reverse outline of your original paper. If your outlines mirror each other, this means you have a competent understanding of your argument. Intended to help you identify what’s most important about your argument.


    Narrative: Site Icon

    • We like to think of our work’s narrative as the arc of the story we tell in a text. Every piece of scholarship tells a story about an object of study. Indeed, we think of storytelling as a particularly useful “off the page” framing paradigm that reminds us to consider our audience and what orienting information they need to know to understand the movements of our ideas and insights. Often, a sound narrative renders our text in a clear, logically coherent arc. Think of the academic narrative as a fairly straightforward timeline; more Moana than Momento.


    Orphan Information: Site Icon

    • Information that is not clearly linked to a claim. In academic writing, information serves to support, complicate, and refute claims about some aspect of our world. Academic readers understand the relevance of information in terms of the claims they serve to support, refute, etc. When readers encounter information that isn’t clearly linked to a claim, they are put into a position of uncertainty in which they don’t know how to understand its relevance to your argument. 


    Paragraph Purpose: Site Icon


    Paragraph-level Claim: Site Icon


    The Passive Voice: Site Icon

    • A sentence construction that makes the acting object of the sentence into the subject. This can lead to confusion when it’s not clear who performed an action. For example, “it was argued that…” is passive voice; “the author argues” is active voice.

    Past Simple Tense: Site Icon

    • A verb tense that expresses an action done in the past; generally, the verb is formed by adding “ed” to the 

    Past Tense: Site Icon

    • A verb tense that expresses an action done in the past or a state that had existed.

    Perfect Tense: Site Icon

    • A verb tense that expresses an action that is completed. The perfect tense is constructed by an auxiliary verb in the past tense—”have”, “had”, or “has”—and the past participle of the main verb. 

    Premise: Site Icon


    Prepositions: Site Icon

    • A word or group of words before a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase to show direction, time, place, location, spatial relationships, or to introduce an object.

    Present Perfect Tense: Site Icon

    • A verb tense that expresses a past action that is either related to or that continues into the present. The present perfect tense is constructed by the auxiliary verbs—”have” and “has”—and the past participle of the main verb.

    Present Simple Tense: Site Icon

    • A verb tense to express an action that is happening right now, when it happens regularly, or unceasingly.

    Present Tense: Site Icon

    • A verb tense to express an action that is going on or habitually performed; in addition, it can express 

    Primary Claims: Site Icon

    • The main idea which you are trying to prove or establish in your piece. It is often expressed in an introductory section through a thesis statement (in the humanities), or in a hypothesis (in the sciences).

    Pronoun: Site Icon

    • A noun that refers to participants in a conversation (I, you) or to someone/thing mentioned elsewhere in the text (she, him, it, this).


    Qualifying Adverbs: Site Icon

    • An adverb that tells us “how much” (an adverb of degree) e.g. really, very, taller, best, etc.)

    Quote Summary: Site Icon



    Reverse Outlining: Site Icon

    • An exercise that places you in the reader’s position, where you read through your paper and summarize each paragraph in one to two sentences. This can help you assess your structure, as well as whether each paragraph is making the claim you think it is.

    Roadmap Paragraph: Site Icon

    • A section of the essay that briefly lays out its subject, major arguments, and its takeaways for the reader.


    Section Breaks: Site Icon

    • Pauses in a paper when the author describes their argument up to that point, and/or what they will discuss next. These breaks also connect what was just discussed to the larger claims of the paper.

    Secondary Claims: Site Icon


    Sentence Structure: Site Icon


    Signal Phrase/Signaling: Site Icon


    Signpost(ing): Site Icon

    • Words, phrases, and transitions that guide your reader through your piece of writing, letting them know which claims are most important and where your argument changes focus. Signposting can be very straightforward (“Having established x, I will now go on to discuss y”) or it can be more subtle (as with bridge sentences, which connect two paragraphs with a transition word like “but”, “however”, or “nevertheless.” ). Signposting can also be accomplished by topic sentences, which tell the reader what the following paragraph is about and how it relates to the piece’s main claim.

    Simple Sentences: Site Icon

    • A one-clause sentence; i.e. it has only one subject and a predicate.

    Simple Tense: Site Icon

    • A verb tense where the verb has no auxiliary verb—present, past, and future forms.


    Storyboarding: Site Icon

    • A process for organizing your argument by writing out individual topic sentences or paragraph themes (physically or on digital software), then arranging them in order to form your argument.

    Stress Position: Site Icon


    Style/Stylistic: Site Icon


    Subject-Verb-Object Agreement:

    • A verb MUST agree with its subject and NOT its object/the object of the prepositional phrase.

    Subordinate Claims: Site Icon

    • Subordinate claims logically follow, or otherwise derive from, a primary claim. These are secondary claims that your primary claim entails as a matter of course. These may be introduced as component parts or notable consequences of your core argument.
      • Subordinate claims begin with language like this: “As a consequence…” “It follows, then…” “Incidentally, this suggests…”

    Summative Claims: Site Icon

    • Summative claims restate the preceding claims of a section in a condensed way. These are not entirely new claims, but rather restatements of already established claims in a new, synthesized way. These may be introduced in the closing paragraphs of a section, or in the conclusion to an article or chapter.
      • Summative claims use language like: “To restate the argument to this point…” “So far, I have established…” “In sum…”


    Tactile Thinkers: Site Icon

    • If you are a tactile (or kinesthetic) thinker, then you learn by touching or doing. Writing and revising can be hard for tactile thinkers unless they find ways to make the work of writing and revising more tactile. 

    Thesis: Site Icon

    • An argumentative statement that can’t be answered with yes or no, but rather requires argumentation through examples and analysis to be defended. In the humanities, usually comes at the end of the introduction. This can also refer to your paper’s main claim as a whole (its thesis).

    Tone/Tonal: Site Icon

    • The attitude with which the writer speaks to the reader. This can be on the spectrum of formal to informal, or include other registers (friendly, mocking, lamenting) in order to establish a relationship between the writer and the reader.

    Topic Position: Site Icon


    Topic Sentence: Site Icon

    • A sentence at the beginning of a paragraph that describes the argument or subject matter of that paragraph. Topic sentences work in support of the main claim, showing the relationship of their paragraph to the argument as a whole.

    Topic-sentence-paragraph-alignment: Site Icon


    Transition: Site Icon


    Transitional Phrases: Site Icon

    • Words that establish a relationship between two or more ideas, connecting them for the reader. These can be causitive (as a result, therefore), chronological (soon, later), contrasting (despite, on the other hand), etc.

    Truth-claim: Site Icon

    • When we talk about claims in academic writing, what we are really talking about are truth-claims. Truth-claims are assertions about what is true, or real, or factual about the world around us. At the end of the day, all academic writing exists to assert and evaluate the validity of truth-claims. Think of it this way: in every academic discipline, scholars seek to understand various aspects of the world around us, to understand what is true about that world. When scholars make claims, they are claiming that their assertion is true. If another scholar has reasons to doubt that claim, they may feel obliged to refute the other scholar’s truth-claim and to offer an alternative claim of their own. Only truth-claims lead people to argue and debate the facts of the world around us.




    The Vacuum: Site Icon

    • An epistemological space apart from the context of your work. In “The Vacuum” you consider the object of study (the key term, the premise, the piece of evidence) outside of the content and context of your writing to diagnose/deconstruct/define the object of study in isolation. Thinking through the vacuum creates a sterile microclimate for your object of study that allows you to evaluate the object of study apart from external variables and create a control value for the object of study that you can then compare to your use of your object of study with respect to the context of your work, which then allows you to see if your use of the object of study (conditioned by the context of your work) remains faithful to the variable free “meaning” and/or your intended use of the object of study.

    Venn Diagram: Site Icon


    Ventilation: Site Icon

    • A term from Eric Hayot: the practice of letting your writing breathe by varying your sentences and word choice. Allows the reader to follow your claims while not getting bored or losing the thread.

    Verb Tense: Site Icon

    • A verb tense indicates when the events/actions in the sentence take place.

    Voice: Site Icon



    Word Cloud: Site Icon

    • A strategy where you use software to pick out the most commonly used words in your work; or, an exercise where you write down what you think are the most important, central themes in your argument. Allows you to see if your idea of what your work is about matches with the reality of what it’s communicating.

    Writing to Think: Site Icon