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Reverse Paramedic Method

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The paramedic method is an editing exercise originally described in Richard Lanham’s Revising Prose. The original exercise helps people recognize wordy sentences written in the passive voice. This adaptation reverses one purpose of the activity and assists in recognizing and implementing passive voice, which is often used in scientific writing. This reverse method should still help writers make sentences less wordy and more concise.


Prepare for the activity by asking students to bring in a sample of their writing from a current assignment, or provide students with the example below. Briefly explain the following grammar concepts:

1. Preposition: A preposition is any word or group of words that relates a noun or pronoun to another word in a sentence. Some common prepositions: about, after, among, behind, down up, from, of, off, past, before, underneath, with, above, during, beyond, in, since, until, within, according to, along, at beside, by except, into, on, through, up, without, across, amid, before, besides, concerning, for, like, over toward, upon.

2. “To be” or “is” verbs: These words describe the “states of being” of people or things in a sentence. Examples: is, was, has been, will be, are, become.

3. The “action” of the sentence: The action of the sentence describes what who is doing what to whom. For example, in the following sentence, the action would be “placed:” The team placed the gyroscope laterally.

4. Finding the subject: The subject of the sentence is the person or thing doing the action. In the following sentence, the subject is “the team.” “The team placed the gyroscope laterally.”

5. Windups: Windups are phrases, usually prepositional phrases, that set up an idea to be expressed in a sentence. Some windups are necessary or important to the meaning of the sentences they introduce, but others just make sentences wordy or unnecessarily complex. Deciding whether a windup is necessary or not depends on the context.

Examples of windups:

  • “According to the results...”
  • “In the next part of the lab...”
  • “In order to understand X concept...”

6. Redundancies: redundancies are patterns or words that are repeated in a sentence. Using redundancies leads to awkward and lengthy sentences, which can make your sentences and your ideas hard to understand. The following sentence contains redundancies (was conducted, with):

"The experiment was conducted at 1330 GMT and was conducted with an increased basal rate with a double bolus."

Eliminating redundancies reduces word count and makes sentences easier to understand:

"The experiment was conducted at 1330 GMT using an increased basal rate and a double bolus."

7. Active and passive voice: Active voice is a structure of writing that emphasizes the doer and uses active verbs rather than forms of the verb "to be" (see above). Here is an example of a sentence written in active voice:

"Morgan Latour attended the baseball game."

The sentence above is constructed in the subject-verb-object pattern. Note that the doer (Morgan) precedes the verb (attended).

Passive voice does not emphasize the doer and may even use past tense. Passive voice is usually used in scientific writing because the emphasis is placed on what was done rather than on who did it. Here is an example of the same sentence written in passive voice:

"The baseball game was attended by Morgan Latour."

In some cases, the doer is not even mentioned in scientific writing:

"The experiment was conducted at 1330 GMT."

Once students appear to understand these basic concepts, get them started on the exercise. The purpose of this exercise is to teach students to emphasize the experiment rather than the researchers.

Procedure for the Reverse Paramedic Method

  1. Circle the prepositions. Eliminate any unnecessary prepositions.
  2. Identify any references to the researchers (the doer).
  3. Replace references to the researchers with a passive construction that emphasizes the experiment (what was done).
  4. Eliminate any unnecessary slow wind-ups.
  5. Eliminate any redundancies.

Example before applying the reverse paramedic method:

  • Original: In the following experiment, we used the feline cell line, W9, to evaluate cell growth in the presence of the growth factor.
  • Revised: The feline cell line W9 was used to evaluate cell growth in the presence of growth factor.
  • Original: During the procedure, we cultured the cells for 48 hours in media that we modified with 78, 80, 90, and 110 ng/mL BMP.
  • Revised: Cells were cultured for 48 hours in media modified with 78, 80, 90, and 110 ng/mL BMP.
  • Original: At 48 hours, we harvested cells from the cell culture dish and counted. We used a hemocytometer.
  • Revised: At 48 hours, cells were harvested from the culture dish and counted using hemocytometer.