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The paragraph below is a conclusion for an essay. I have three problems with the paragraph that I would like to review with you.

This experience showed me that ignoring an interpersonal conflict only exacerbates the problem at hand. In my case, being in denial about my bullying conflict only made it worse, extending it through the years. It was only when I decided to confront the problem and call the people involved was I able to move towards a solution. However, calling the people was not an easy thing for me; it required me to confront my fear of being hurt, and more importantly, it forced me to understand myself, which gave me the courage that I was searching for. This experience, above all, was a lesson on how to find the courage to confront my conflicts in life.

1) The sentence "It was only when I decided to confront the problem and call the people involved was I able to move towards a solution." supposedly uses an inversion. It sounds kind of weird to me (english is not my first language), but a friend mentioned to me that it sounds right. Anyone knows if this is right, and why?

2) I feel the paragraph is too paused. To many periods, when you read it does it feel the same way to you? if yes, what would you change?

3) The last sentence, "This experience, above all, was a lesson on how to find the courage to confront my conflicts in life.". It does not bring the punch that I would like to have at the end of a paragraph, any idea on how I could re-organize it to bring the punch (I already tried to repeat the same idea but in a briefer way, but kind of looses the meaning of the phrase)


After following the feedback (special thanks to Lisa), I am including and updated version of the paragraph. Hope is helpful for anyone wondering on a newer version.

This experience showed me that ignoring an interpersonal conflict only exacerbates the problem at hand. In my case, being in denial of my bullying conflict extended my painful memories for years, and only after confronting my memories was I able to move on. However, confronting my memories was not an easy thing for me; it required me to face my fear of being hurt and, more importantly, it forced me to understand myself. This in turn gave me the courage I needed. My bullying experience, above all, was a lesson on how to build courage, the courage to confront conflict head on.

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migrated from english.stackexchange.com Nov 2 '11 at 23:52

This question came from our site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.

    
I agree with you on 1: it should be that I was able.... The dummy subject it points forward to the that clause, which is just like any other that clause as regards inversion. The writer was probably confused by only; if it had been Only when... (no It was), then was I able would be main clause and the inversion caused by only would have been warranted. –  Cerberus Nov 2 '11 at 23:18

5 Answers 5

up vote 4 down vote accepted

On point #1, your inversion is only valid if you do as suggested in above answers OR if you removed the "it was". e.g.

Only when I decided to confront the problem and call the people involved was I able to move towards a solution.

But you really need to minimise the gap between 'when' and 'was I'. One way to do this would be to remove superfluous verbs and 'I' and make the rest active. e.g.

Only after confronting the problem and calling those involved was I able to move towards a solution.

On point #2 the pauses are just fine. The amount of punctuation is not the greatest problem here. In my humble opinion it is just "waffly". I'd just remove as many words as I could without removing the meaning. (But then I mainly ever only do technical writing).

On point #3 Here's how I would revise the last two sentences for punch. Brackets for where you should replace the words with the accurate noun/adverb to the experience you had.

I suggest replacing 'myself' with what you actually better understood otherwise the reader is left with a feeling that you've said nothing at all.

Last suggestion in brackets optional. It's less formal but does add punch. Generally the more old English words (short and blunt words) the stronger the prose will be. Conversely the more long Latin-derived words (our Prime Minister got famous for saying 'programmatic specificity') the more difficult to read and potentially weak the prose will be. Think about not saying "my experience" but "dealing with Tina's behaviour" or whatever it was. This reinforces to the reader that there's a real concrete story here, something engaging, not just some theoretical situation full of legal words.

However, calling the people was not an easy thing for me; it required me to confront my fear of being hurt and, more importantly, forced me to understand [my own needs]. This in turn gave me the courage I needed. Above all, [the event] was a lesson on how to build the courage to confront conflicts [head on].

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Lisa, thank you so much for your answer. It is truly fantastic. I have edited my question to include the new structure in case someone wants to check a newer version. –  Peretz Nov 3 '11 at 3:09

While I have no answer for point 3, regarding points 1 and 2 I have an opinion.

  1. I would change this sentence to "It was only when I decided to confront the problem and call the people involved that I was able to move towards a solution." This more clearly demonstrates the cause-and-effect scenario that you give.

  2. I don't think the paragraph has too many pauses in it. Don't forget, run-on sentences make it harder for a reader to understand your points.

I must point out that I am not a native speaker.

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  1. This sentence is not correct. I think what you are going for is:

    It was only when I decided ... that I was able to move towards a solution.

  2. I don't agree there are too many periods. The paragraph stutters a little because there are so many clauses, and a lot more words than necessary. Try things like this:

    My denial about my bullying conflict only made it worse, leaving it unresolved for years.

Generally speaking, when it comes to writing, less is more.

  1. Try something like:

    Above all, this experience taught me courage to confront life's conflicts.

At school my son is learning about power words. The whole paragraph is a little vanilla, and might use a few of those power words.

This experience taught me that ignoring interpersonal conflict only makes it worse. Denying my bullying experience was like a cancer, and only by confronting my tormentors was I able to excise it. However, fear of being hurt made calling them difficult. Yet, by facing my fear and looking inside myself I did find the courage I needed. Above all, I found that courage is found when one gazes unblinkingly into the eye of the tiger.

OK, perhaps I got a little carried away.

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A couple of the other answers made me look at your paragraph again. I can't tell for sure which end of the bullying "you" were on (if it is actually about you).

I deduce that you were bullied, but, especially in a conclusion, the reader shouldn't have to deduce anything. It should be laid out as a summation of what has already been presented, or reinforce your main conclusions in some other way.

"bullying conflict" and "bullying experience" sound like you're still distancing yourself from the experience by abstraction (which may be valid if the issues remain unresolved). But these terms are the place to put the "punch", no pun intended, of real experience/emotion to give your conclusion more impact and give the readers something they can identify with. "The intimidation I suffered", "The terror and dehumanization", "powerlessness" - or if you were on the other side, the "hardening", "destructive self-image", "devaluing of life", "consuming anger", "shutting down".

I may have gone a little too far if this is supposed to be a more formal, "objective" essay, but having been subjected to a lot of bullying and teasing myself, it hits home.

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To help with the tone, consider using shorter, more concise sentences.

To gain punch, you can simplify your sentence structures,eliminate some abstract words ("exacerbates", "denial"), and put your key words at the end of each sentence.

To gain force at the end, you might consier reoranizing the last sentence to connect tightly the causes and effects.

An example:

Ignoring a conflict often makes it worse. When I ignored some bullies, they increased their bullying. Eventually they stopped, but only after I confronted them. Telling them to stop was not easy. I needed to overcome my fear of being hurt, and I had to work hard to understand my own nature. Having done both, the gain in courage was worth it.

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