Adapted from:
The College Writerís Reference Fulwiler, Hayakawa, Kupper
Style: Ten Lessons in Clarity and Grace Williams
The New Strategy of Style Weathers and Winchester

English 1050
Instructor: Dr. Peters
 

Structure

 Obviously, a strong essay must have sentences that are clear and easily understood. However, this alone is not enough to make the essay clear. A clear essay must be structured well, and, logically, a well-structured, clear essay has a much better chance of getting your point across than one that is difficult to follow. Even though there are options when setting up the structure of an essay, it still must have a beginning, middle, and ending. You want your audience to have some idea where you are going early on in your writing, and you want to eventually take your reader there with as few difficulties as possible. That is, you donít want your audience to spend a lot of time wondering how the information you are presenting is relevant to the focus of the paper, and you donít want them to have to make guesses and wonder how ideas are connected. Think of it as taking  readers on a journey; you want your travelers to be interested and informed, but you also want them to be as comfortable as possible. They should be relaxed enough with the trip through your paper that they are not only happy when the trip is over, but they are also prepared to be there.

Cohesion:

 Your writing must have cohesion. Cohesion is achieved when a text fits together well in both structure and form. Not only must your sentences flow easily and logically from one to another, but so must your ideas. Consider the following paragraph:

Saner, Wisconsin is the snow-mobile capital of the world. The buzzing of snow-mobile engines fills the air, and their tank-like tracks criss-cross the snow. The snow reminds me of Momís mashed potatoes, covered with furrows I would draw with my fork. Momís mashed potatoes usually made me sick, thatís why I was playing with them. I like to make a whole in the middle of the potatoes and fill it with melted butter. This behavior has been the subject of long chats between me and my analyst.

 One could say that this passage flows cohesively from one sentence to he next, but it feels incoherent because each sentence shifts to a new topic. There is no focus on a consistent set of central concepts. Similarly, essays can feel this way as a whole when paragraphs do not have cohesion between them. The best coherence is achieved when a reader moves through sentences and paragraphs but does not notice how consistently the information carries them from old to new and how the string of topics focuses her attention on just central concepts. Words like thus, furthermore, hence, but, and so on help readers see connections between your ideas, but when you find yourself using them more than once or twice in a paragraph, look closely. You may need them, but if the logic of your ideas is coherent, you probably donít. More importantly, you may be trying to impose coherence on a passage that is intrinsically incoherent.

Beginnings:

 The major observation about a compositionís beginning is that it exists primarily to prepare or condition the reader for the main body of the writing. It is primarily a place where the stage is set or the reader is intrigued; where the reader is quickly acclimated to the general feeling , perspective , and approach of your composition; where you hope to lure the reader on. The beginning of an essay also establishes your voice, tone, stylistic manner, and attitude of your composition all in the first few sentences. Beginnings can be broken down into two general categories, direct and delayed.

Direct Beginning

 A direct beginning does the following: 1) states the subject early on in the first paragraph 2) devotes the first paragraph generally to an identification or definition of the subject, or  to a synopsis or foreshadowing of the material to be covered.

Delayed Beginning

 A delayed beginning is one n which the announcement of the subject or thesis is delayed until some other matter is taken care of--such as an attention-getting device, an anecdote, a generalization that will serve as background for your subject, a vivid description, a suspenseful or dramatic incident, an ironic or paradoxical observation. You might want to think of this strategy as setting up a prologue that leads up to the true beginning of the essay, the place where the subject is clearly stated.

Endings:

 Though a good ending cannot salvage a poor composition, certainly a bad ending can spoil an otherwise good piece of writing. The ending is a product of your essay; therefore, it must relate to what has come before it. A basic kind of ending is one that summarizes the entire composition, or at least makes a quick review, ties up in  a neat bundle the essence of the composition. Another kind of ending is one in which a conclusion is reached as the result information given in the central pat of the composition, a kind of final total.

 You should note that in both kinds of endings--summary and conclusion--something new should be presented, not something new that suddenly changes the entire complexion of your essay, but some new illumination. In the conclusion ending, the conclusion being reached is new material and will do the job. But in the summary ending, you must guard against a simple repetitive list of what you have been talking about.

Paragraphs:

 Good paragraphing shows readers how to read and follow an authorís ideas throughout a piece of writing. When a new paragraph begins, readers expect a new idea to begin. They expect that within a paragraph, each sentence will develop a single main idea--that the paragraph will be unified. They expect that a paragraph will present its ideas in a logical order--that it will be organized. And they expect that each sentence will relate to the sentences around it--that it will be coherent.

Final Note

 Remember, structuring an essay is no easy task; it usually involves a lot of thinking, planning, writing, and most of all, revising. Try to step back from your work from time to time and become a reader rather than a writer. Look at your composition with a critical eye, and ask yourself: does this make sense? Am I being as clear as I can be? Is this confusing? Learning what to look for is only part of the battle in improving writing; you also must learn to move easily in and out of the roles of reader, writer, and editor.