Just the plain facts! Presentation series how to organize the body of an essay
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How to organize the body of an essay How to organize the body of an essay Background So you have done the reading and research, and you are now ready to start writing your paper. But there are so many ideas and facts you want to include that you are not sure how to organize them in the body of the essay!! Sound familiar?! If so, read on… Diagrams Diagrams Creating a diagram of the structure of your essay before writing can be useful. Diagrams typically consist of key ideas, key arguments, or key stages, arranged in the order you want them to be discussed in the essay. When you organize your key components, the minor facts will fall into place. Example of a simple diagram Saves millions of lives each year Argument for a ban on DDT Argument against a ban on DDT Diagrams Diagrams The beauty of diagrams is that they allow you to work out the organization of an essay without the need to write a draft. But a drawback of diagrams is that they are of limited use if your problem is that of working out what the key components of the essay should be! Key ideas, arguments and stages Key ideas, arguments and stages If your problem is that of working out what the key components of your essay should be, here are some tips: key ideas, key arguments, and key stages are ideas, arguments or stages that play a major role in the topic or issue you are writing about; minor ideas or minor stages support or describe key ideas or key stages Key ideas, arguments and stages – tips Key ideas, arguments and stages – tips A useful starting-point in working out the key components of your essay is to decide whether the topic you are writing about mostly involves key ideas, key arguments, or key stages in a process Key ideas, arguments and stages - tips Key ideas, arguments and stages - tips pay attention to headings and sub-headings in the material you will base your essay on; headings and sub-headings can provide clues about what the key ideas, arguments or stages are Key ideas, arguments and stages – tips Key ideas, arguments and stages – tips reflect on the themes and messages of the course – these can sometimes help you select key components for your essay; if your research material can be interpreted in different ways, choose the interpretation that best connects with issues emphasized in the course. The way you interpret your research material will influence your choice of key ideas Organizational patterns If your problem is that of deciding how to arrange key components in your essay, then it is useful to think about which of the following three organizational patterns is appropriate: spatial chronological logical Spatial patterns Spatial patterns If your essay involves description or analysis of an object or stretch of land, you can impose a spatial pattern on your key ideas. Spatial patterns are particularly useful for essays that involve: describing/evaluating visual art describing/evaluating geographical features environmental studies/analyses describing/evaluating architecture. Spatial patterns Spatial patterns For geographical descriptions and environmental studies, you can impose a North-South-East-West pattern on the land you are writing about. Point out that you will begin by discussing a particular area, the North, say, followed by another area, the South, say, and so on. In this way, your key ideas fall into easily arranged groups (northern, southern, eastern and western). Spatial patterns Spatial patterns For description and evaluation of visual art or architecture, you can impose a top-to-bottom, bottom-to-top, or side-to-side pattern on the object or feature you’re writing about. Point out that you will discuss a particular aspect, the top, say, followed by another aspect, the middle, say, and so on. In this way, your key ideas fall into easily arranged groups (top, middle, bottom, or left, right). Spatial patterns Spatial patterns Some geographical/environmental features come with their own spatial patterns. If your essay is about a river, you can order key ideas according to upstream-downstream and river-riverbank patterns. Spatial patterns Spatial patterns If your essay is about a mountain, you can order key ideas according to a summit-middle-base pattern. If you are writing about a forest, you can order key ideas according to an upper-middle-lower- canopy-forest-floor pattern! Spatial patterns Spatial patterns Visual art and architecture also often come with their own spatial patterns. If you are writing about a famous statue, you can order key ideas according to a head-torso-legs pattern. Spatial patterns If you are writing about the architecture of a church, you can order key ideas according to a steeple-roof-walls pattern. Chronological patterns Chronological patterns If your essay involves describing or analyzing events or stages, you can impose a chronological pattern on your key ideas or arguments. Chronological patterns are particularly useful for essays involving: description/analysis of historical events description/analysis of geological processes description/analysis of chemical processes description/analysis of biological processes. Chronological patterns Chronological patterns For description and evaluation of historical events, impose an earlier-later pattern on the stages that lead up to or constitute the event. Your key ideas then fall into easily ordered earlier-later groups. Point out in your essay that you will discuss the most important stages leading up to or constituting the event. Chronological patterns Chronological patterns For description and analysis of a geological, chemical, or biological process, impose an earlier-later pattern on the stages that constitute the process. Your key ideas then fall into easily ordered earlier-later groups. Indicate the order of the stages discussed. Logical patterns Logical patterns If your essay involves explaining or analyzing a concept, you can impose a logical pattern on your key ideas and arguments. Logical patterns are particularly useful for essays primarily involving: explanation of an idea description and critique of an argument explanation and critique of a social, literary, or philosophical topic Logical patterns Logical patterns The explanation of an idea involves translating it into other ideas that elucidate its meaning. Suppose that you had to write an essay on the topic of global warming. The following slide shows this idea translated into ideas that go to make up the idea of global warming. Logical patterns Increased carbon dioxide in atmosphere Caused by human activity? Spread of insect-carried diseases Logical patterns Logical patterns A logical pattern has not yet been imposed on the ideas that make up the idea of global warming. First, ideas that are particularly relevant to each other must be grouped together. This has been done on the next slide. Logical patterns Greenhouse effect. Increased carbon dioxide in atmosphere. Climate change. Rising sea-levels. Flooding. Drought. Spread of insect-carried diseases. Caused naturally? Caused by human activity? Kyoto protocol. Alternatives to fossil fuel. Logical patterns Logical patterns Next, the ideas within each group must be put into a sequence that makes sense. It makes better sense to discuss drought and flooding after introducing climate change. It makes better sense to discuss flooding after discussing rising sea-levels. And it makes better sense to discuss the spread of insect-carried diseases after discussing climate change. You will notice that the ideas in each group have already been sequenced! Logical patterns Logical patterns Finally, the groups of sequenced ideas must themselves be sequenced in a way that makes the most sense. This has been done on the next two slides. Logical patterns Logical patterns It makes little sense to discuss climate change without first setting it within the context of the greenhouse effect. Unless the possible effects are explained first, the reader cannot know the importance of whether the greenhouse effect is caused by human activity. If the possible causes of the greenhouse effect are not explained first, how can the reader know why alternatives to fossil fuels are important? Greenhouse effect. Increased carbon dioxide in atmosphere. Climate change. Rising sea-levels. Flooding. Drought. Spread of insect-carried diseases. Caused naturally? Caused by human activity? Kyoto protocol. Alternatives to fossil fuel. Logical patterns Logical patterns The description and critique of an argument involves explaining and evaluating ideas, and explaining and evaluating the inferential connections between them. Argument structure provides a logical pattern you can follow during your description and critique of an argument. Logical patterns Logical patterns Basic argument structures: Simple Serial Linked Reason Reason Reason + Reason Conclusion Reason Conclusion Conclusion Logical patterns Logical patterns Basic argument structures: Convergent Divergent Reason Reason Reason Conclusion Conclusion Conclusion Logical patterns Logical patterns Logical patterns An argument consists of a conclusion and of reasons (evidence) that are supposed to support the conclusion. Your key ideas will be your descriptions and evaluation of these reasons, together with your evaluation of their inferential connections with each other and with the conclusion. Hence, the organization of your essay can mirror the structure of the argument you are writing about. Logical patterns Logical patterns Explanation and critique of a social, literary or philosophical topic will combine explanation of ideas and evaluation of arguments. Hence, the body of the essay is organized by sequencing key ideas according to relevance and clarity (as we did with global warming), and by mirroring the structure of arguments at places where you discuss concepts, reasons, conclusions, and their inferential connections. Combined organizational patterns Combined organizational patterns Often, the body of an essay is best organized by using a combination of organizational patterns. If you are required to write a critical essay on the effects of urban development close to the Oak Ridges Moraine, you may use a combination of spatial patterns (to describe key features of the area), chronological patterns (to describe chemical and biological processes), and logical patterns (to explain key ideas and evaluate arguments). Impact! Impact! Organize your groups of key ideas to create the greatest impact on the reader. Suppose you have to write an essay on urban development near the Oak Ridges Moraine, and that you have discovered three negative chemical/biological effects, one minor, the other not so minor, and the last one devastating! You have organized your key ideas concerning each of these effects according to a chronological pattern. But you still have a choice about which effect to discuss first, second, and so on. Impact! Impact! EFFECTS SEQUENCED FOR IMPACT MINOR EFFECT Key ideas organized chronologically DEVASTATING EFFECT Key ideas organized chronologically Impact! Impact! If you began by discussing the devastating effect and finished with a discussion of the minor effect, the body of your essay would end on an anticlimax. This must be avoided. Always sequence components so that they give the impression of a build up to a climax. Impact! Impact! Key ideas and arguments can be sequenced for impact using these scales: Least important Most important Less recent More recent Least persuasive Most persuasive Simplest Most complex Impact! Impact! It is not always easy to see how components can be arranged to have an impact. If no key idea or argument seems to be more important, recent, persuasive, or simpler than any other, then… pretend otherwise, for the sake of rhetorical effect!! Frequently asked questions 1. It seems like a jumble of unrelated facts – help! You may be trying to sequence facts before having sorted them into groups. Think about what the main ideas are first. Next, try to group the minor facts according to the main ideas they belong to. Now you can think about sequencing the minor facts within each group. Finally, you can sequence the main ideas themselves. Frequently asked questions Frequently asked questions 2. All the facts seem like main ideas to me – help! You may need to impose an organizational pattern (see earlier slides) on the topic you are writing about, in order to create groups of related facts. Once you have worked out groups of related facts, you should find it easier to identify main ideas. You should also note any headings, sub-headings, pictures or diagrams in your reading material, as these may give clues about main ideas that you can use to group the minor facts. Frequently asked questions Frequently asked questions 3. I’ve worked out the main ideas, but I am not sure how to organize them Well done for accomplishing the hard part! Organizing your main ideas is not difficult. Simply organize them according to spatial, chronological, or logical patterns (see earlier slides), or use combinations of these patterns. Frequently asked questions Frequently asked questions 4. I have to write about an argument – where do I start?! Any argument has a structure (see earlier slides) that you can exploit in order to organize your key ideas. Begin by discussing the conclusion, and work your way up through the reasons. Or start with the reasons and work your way down to the conclusion. Simple! For more on arguments, see the BWC presentation on how to argue for a thesis. Frequently asked questions Frequently asked questions 5. Should I compare and contrast two things in the same paragraph or in different paragraphs? There is really no advantage to doing it one way or the other. But if the two things being compared are easy to deal with, it makes sense to compare and contrast them in the same paragraph. If the two things being compared are complex, then it might be easier to give them separate paragraphs. Other sources and resources Make an appointment for the Bethune Writing Centre (go to Master’s office at 205 Bethune to book a slot or call 416 736 2100 ext. 22035) Visit York Centre for Academic Writing online resources at: http://www.arts.yorku.ca/caw/resources.html The following books may be useful: Stewart, K. L., Kowler, M. E., & Bullock, C. (1985). Essay Writing For Canadian Students (2nd ed.). Scarborough, Ont.: Prentice-Hall. Call number: LB 2369 S74 Troyka, Lynn Quitman (2002). Simon & Schuster handbook for writers (3rd ed.). Scarborough, Ont.: Prentice-Hall. Call number: PE 1408 T697
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