One of the strategies for revising sentence-level errors that we have talked about in class is the “Rule of 3.” The strategy can be applied to any sentence-level error that occurs repeatedly in a paper, regardless of what that error might be. A couple of scenarios in which it would apply include when the student struggles with passive voice, nomializations, comma usage, or wordiness, but the technique is by no means limited to these example.

The strategy can be summarized in three steps.

  1. The first time the error occurs: Explicitly explain to the student that the error occurs, show them where exactly it happens in the text, and correct it for them.
  2. The second time the error occurs: Point out a specific place where the error occurs, but then let the tutee try to fix the error on his or her own.
  3. The third time the error occurs: Point out a general area of the paper where the error occurs and have the student identify places where they make the error. Tell them to focus on this section of the paper as part of their revision.

Let’s say in a tutoring session, after first addressing all of the tutee’s concerns, you notice that the tutee repeatedly nominalizes throughout the text.

Tutor: I’ve noticed that throughout your writing you have a tendency to nominalize, which means that instead of using a strong verb, you turn that strong verb into a noun and instead use it along with a weak verb. This happened several times in the third pargraph of your paper, so why don’t we take a look at that? In this sentence, you wrote “I often have to make changes to my thesis during the revision process.” Here, you use “changes” as a now along with the weak verb “make.” You could correct this nominalization by saying something like “I often have to change my thesis during the revision process” or “I often have to revise my thesis after my initial draft.”

Student: Oh yeah, that totally makes sense. I get how “revise” and “change” are much more active verbs than “make.”

Then, if you notice the error again:

Tutor: So this is another area of the paper where you’ve nominalized. Specifically, there is a nominalization in the first sentence of this paragraph. This time, though, I want you to try to correct it yourself.

Student: So instead of saying “I made the decision to delete an entire paragraph,” I should say, “I decided to delete an entire paragraph.”

Tutor: Yeah that sounds great! You see how “decided” is much more powerful than “made?”

Student: Yeah, for sure.

The third time the error is noticed:

Tutor: Again here I’ve noticed some nominalizations. I’m not going to point these out this time, but see if you can pick some of them out on your own. Then during your revision after this session, you can go back and correct them.