Pennsylvania College of Technology 
Williamsport, PA
ENL 111 (Vavra) 
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Audience Thesis Organization Details Style

Grades & The Written Product: 
Introduction to ATODS 

     When I was a student in college, my papers came back with grades on them, but I never could figure out why I got the grade I did. One of my professors used to say that my writing was "mechanical," but I never knew what to do to make it not mechanical. One of the reasons I teach composition is that I want to do a better job than my professors did, and one of the ways I have developed to do that is to give each major paper five grades, one for each of the categories named above. The grade for the paper is the average of the five grades.

      This section describes what is expected in each of the five categories. As often as I can, I indicate exactly what grade you will receive if you do (or don't do) certain things. You should study these categories and then, in the process of writing and revising your paper, you should use what you have learned about them to improve your paper before you hand it in.

     You should, for example, determine your audience before you make an outline. Later, in the process of revising, you should again consider your audience, as objectively as you can, and ask yourself, "What grade is that blind and deaf old man going to give me?" As you consider that, look at what is said in the section about audience. It should give you some idea of what I will give you as a grade for Audience. If you do this while you are revising, you will have the opportunity to change that grade, by dropping something, adding some details, reorganizing, etc.

(also known as "Discourse Communities")

     Your audience is the people who will be reading what you write. This is NOT ME. Although I will read (and grade) what you write, you are learning to write for that "real world" out there, not for an old English teacher. For the purposes of this course, you define your audience by writing the name of a publication at the top of your paper. A publication is a newspaper, magazine, journal, pamphlet, church bulletin, or anything else that would appear in print and be read by a group of people. [In some cases, you will be assigned an audience; in others, you must choose one for yourself.] 

     If you do not define an audience, you cannot get an "A" for "Audience," for the simple reason that you also cannot get an "F" (unless the "F" is for the entire paper, such as a paper that does not address the assignment). 

General Criteria for Assigning a Grade for Audience

1. Is the paper appropriate for the chosen audience?

2. If nothing in this section applies to a paper's appropriateness for an audience, the grade for "Audience" will gravitate toward the grade for "Details," because details are what make writing interesting and meaningful.

General Comments on Writing for an Audience

     Outside of school, no one ever writes anything without having a reader or readers in mind. Even if you keep a private journal, you keep it with the idea that someone, even if only yourself, will eventually read what you wrote. Writing without an audience in mind is extremely difficult because what you write depends upon whom you are writing to. 
     If I were to assign a specific audience, many students' grades might suffer: how many of your classmates (including you) could write an essay for Beckett Basketball Monthly? To keep the course fair, and more interesting to you, in most cases you need to decide on your own audience. Any publication will do. It can be a church newsletter, the local newspaper, or a regional or national magazine. You can also write for the Penn College newspaper. If you have an idea for a paper but are not sure of an audience, see me or look through Writer's Market. This book, available in the library, gives information on hundreds of publications, arranged by subject matter. 
     You should decide on your audience in the process of brainstorming for your paper. Before you write, you need to know what you are going to say, and TO WHOM. There are four main things to consider in choosing a publication/audience: location, interests, knowledge, and social codes.

The Geographical Location of your Audience

     If you want to complain about taxes in Williamsport, then you need to include details about the specific situation in Williamsport. If you want to change the fishing regulations in Pennsylvania, then you need to write for a magazine read by fishermen in Pennsylvania, and not for a national publication. Finding a publication whose readers would be interested in your thesis is not very hard to do if you check Writer's Market

Reader's Guide, by the way, is not a good choice for audience, since it prints articles about almost everything. If you choose it, you will be saying that you were too lazy to think, or to look up Writer's Market.

The Readers' Interests

     This is a matter of using your head and considering your purpose in writing your essay. No one picks up a copy of Beckett's Baseball Monthly to read about space exploration. Select a publication whose readers are -- or could be persuaded to be -- interested in your topic. Then consider what those readers probably already know about your topic. 

The Readers' Previous Knowledge

     Related to the readers' interests is the readers' previous knowledge. Suppose, for example, that you wanted to write something about computers. If you write for PC Magazine, you can use words such as "RAM," "drive," and "scrollbar" without defining them. But if you were writing for Parents Magazine, attempting to show parents why they should buy a computer for their children, you would have to include explanations: "RAM" stands for Random Access Memory, which refers to the size, hence complexity, of the programs that a computer can run. If a computer has only one meg of RAM, it cannot run most computer programs. The computer you buy should have at least sixteen, if not thirty-two megs of RAM. Such an explanation would look ridiculous in PC Magazine, whose readers almost all already know that, but it would be essential in many non-specialized journals. 

Social Codes

     The last aspect of audience is social codes. Several years ago, a student chose her church newsletter as her audience. The essay seemed fine, until, in the middle of a paragraph, I read "those G-- damned ...." (She spelled it out.) Although such language is acceptable in some publications, it certainly would cause a major uproar in a church newsletter. It is neither my job, nor appropriate for me to judge the morality of your language, but it is certainly my job to evaluate its appropriateness. My job is to help you learn to convince other people, in writing, that your ideas are right. You cannot do that if you simply offend your audience by the language that you use. Since you cannot offend an audience if you do not name one, it seems to me only fair that you should not be able to get an A for audience unless you name one. 
Offending an audience will cost you a letter grade, i.e., 10 points. Many students get confused and worried about this. Some students think that using the wrong pronoun (he/she) will cost them these ten points. Not true. Others think that writing something that readers will disagree with will cost them ten points. Again, not true. The he/she situation is a problem, and I realize that some women are very sensitive to constant male pronouns. How to handle this, however, can get tricky, and I am not about to deduct ten points for a pronoun problem. As for readers disagreeing, for many papers in this course you are supposed to be explaining your opinions -- if no one would disagree, you haven't got a good paper. 
     In every case in which I have applied it (and they are thankfully rare), this 10-point penalty concerns blatant use of emotionally charged words -- swearing, racial or ethnic slurs, etc.  Note that this is the "official" penalty, but it usually  costs students who get it even more because such language, no matter whom it is directed at, offends me. That means that in all the borderline calls (Should this paragraph get a three or a four for details?) the writers who have lost ten for audience also get the lower calls. 

Discourse Communities

     Two of my colleagues (from Biology and from Environmental Science)  have suggested that I use the phrase "Discourse Communities" instead of "Audience." The last time I looked, most composition texts, if they discussed it at all, used the term "Audience." What we have here is a difference in discourse communities. The composition teachers (one community) prefer one word, whereas the academicians in some areas (actually numerous different communities) prefer another. 
     Specialists in Rhetoric, which I am literally an Associate Professor of, also prefer the phrase "Discourse Communities." The problem with the phrase, however, is that to use it here (in place of "Audience") would be to misjudge my audience. Most of my students have never been asked to write something with the idea that a group of people (other than the teacher) would be interested in reading it. And they would certainly have problems identifying, never mind writing to, the numerous discourse communities of the academic world. 
     If, however, you follow my directions -- pick a specific, limited audience publication and write to the people who would read it, you will be writing to a discourse community. One way to define discourse communities is to identify the group of people who would tend to read the same kinds of publications. Readers of Outdoor Life and of Field and Stream form a discourse community. Readers of Good Housekeeping  and of Family Circle tend to form another. In the academic world, there are literally thousands of discourse communities, most of which have subcommunities. In the field of English, for example, there are general journals on literature, but then there are more specific journals on the literature of specific languages, and then there are even more specific journals on individual writers. What are the differences? Basically, they are differences in what the probable readers already know and what they expect, i.e., what I have discussed above as essential aspects of Audience. As you progress in your field, your instructors should teach you how to write for the discourse communities in that field. Here, we will deal with the simpler concept of "Audience." 

     (See also Journals vs. Magazines.)


     A thesis is the main idea or point of an essay. In the essays you write for college, your thesis should be stated in your essay, usually in a single sentence at the end of your introduction. In short papers, such as those you will write for this course, your introduction should be a single paragraph, so, in general, your thesis should be the last sentence in your first paragraph. In other courses, where you will probably be required to write longer papers, your thesis should still be at the end of your introduction, but it may be several paragraphs into the essay.

Criteria for Assigning a Grade for Thesis
If I can not find your thesis,
the last sentence in your first paragraph
becomes your thesis.

1. The thesis should be a statement of opinion, or an umbrella statement delimiting your topic.

2. It should NOT be a statement of fact or taste.

3. The word "I" should not appear in your thesis.

4. Your thesis should be "original," or developed in an original way.

      In 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Thus, the story goes, began the Protestant Reformation, and the beginning of the divided Christian world as we know it. (In 1517, every Christian in Europe was Roman Catholic.) Each thesis was a statement of Luther's position on an issue with the Catholic church. He was, in effect, stating that he was prepared to argue (or write an essay supporting) each of these 95 points. A thesis, in other words, is a central or "controlling" idea. Your essays should include a thesis sentence, i.e., one sentence which states the main idea of the entire paper. 

Location of the Thesis Sentence

      Since a thesis serves as a guide to the reader, the thesis has to appear near the beginning of an essay. Once the reader has the thesis, the reader can begin to check off whether or not the ideas in the paper support it. In longer essays, the thesis may appear as late as the tenth paragraph (or even later), but since your essays will be relatively short, your thesis should appear no later than the end of the first paragraph. 
      It is, by the way, possible to have a thesis at the end of the paper. One could, for example, end the first paragraph with a question (such as "Why would anyone want to own a computer?") The question would serve the reader as a guide, letting her know to look for reasons for and against owning a computer. The actual thesis then might appear in the last paragraph. ("Owning a computer is a good (bad) idea.) 

Thesis = Opinion

      Understanding what is, and what is not, a thesis is not easy. That Williamsport is a city is a fact; that Williamsport should be a city is an opinion. A person could look up the official definition of "city" and then match Williamsport against it, concluding either that it fits, or it doesn't. Or one could even argue with the definition of "city." If you have lived in Baltimore, New York City, or Philadelphia, Williamsport does not seem like a city, no matter what the official definition says. 
      Ultimately, most important definitions are opinions. When thinking of universities, most people picture huge schools with tens of thousands of students. I know of one University, however, which has around 400 students. Clearly, some people at that school have stretched the common definition. The basic question to ask yourself in deciding whether or not you have a thesis is: will some people disagree with me? If the answer is "yes," you have a thesis. 

The Use of First Person Pronouns ("I," "me," "my," "mine.")

      Your thesis should be written to engage your readers in your paper. It may be a sad and cruel fact, but your readers are not interested in you (or me). As a result, your thesis should not contain first person pronouns. Throughout your essay, on the other hand, you are certainly welcome to use first person pronouns to describe your personal experiences that support your thesis. 
      Similarly, your thesis should not be a statement about your essay. A sentence such as "This essay will show you why you should learn to use computers" is a wordy statement that has the essay as its grammatical subject. A much better thesis would be something such as "There are two main reasons for learning to use computers." Note that the latter uses two fewer words but includes more information. It includes what some writing teachers call an "essay map," i.e., the thesis makes clear that the paper will be organized into two main sections, one about each of the two reasons. 

Questions of Taste

      Even if some people would disagree with you, you do not have a thesis if your statement is a matter of taste. You cannot argue that chocolate ice cream tastes better than vanilla or that Chevies are classier than Fords. Tastes are based on personal experience and chemistry and are not subject to rational arguments. Hence, statements of taste cannot work as a thesis. 


      In the context of this course, "originality" means that you did not take the most obvious topic and say what everyone else said, i.e., the obvious. Suppose, for example, that you were asked to write about your favorite teacher. If you think about where you are, you should quickly realize that many students in this course may have vo-tech backgrounds. "My Vo-Tech Teacher" might be an obvious common choice. By making that choice, you put yourself in direct competition with these students, some of whom may be more experienced writers than you. Personally, even if I loved my vo-tech teacher, I would choose to write about my tropical fish, who taught me to enjoy beauty, to relax, and to understand Pavlov's theory of conditioning. Originality is simply a matter of looking where others aren't. Everyone can do this by spending some extra time brain-storming.
     In some cases, your thesis statement may be extremely common, but you can get an "A" for thesis because of the way you develop it. Probably the most common thesis in the world is that of both E.T. and The Wizard of Oz -- "There's no place like home." Thousands of essays have been written developing this thesis, and you could probably write an excellent one yourself. But to do so, you would have to tell a detailed story which would make your reader re-experience the profound human desire to be "at home." 

Louie's thesis
his paper
like an


     Perhaps the primary difference between writing and speaking is that writing should be organized. Imagine, for example, a group of students discussing whether or not they should travel to Penn State to see a football game. Joe says that he'd like to go because he has never been there before and wants the experience. Sam replies that if he wants a new experience, they should go skiing instead. Bill pops in with the comment that he would drive if others would pitch in for gas. John responds with the comment that his car gets better gas mileage. Sally says she wants to go because she knows one of the players. Joe asks how well she knows him. A conversation, in other words, goes in multiple directions, back and forth, as each individual turns it in a different direction.
     In writing, on the other hand, the writers have complete control over the "conversation." No one can interject and start it on a different course. Writers, moreover, have time before the written transaction takes place, i.e., before the readers "hear" what the writers have to say. Because writers have this time, and because writers have complete control over the discourse, writers are expected to present their ideas in an organized manner. The "organization" of your paper is judged by the development and sequence of your paragraphs. Topic sentences in the paragraphs should reflect the outline behind the paper.

Criteria for Assigning a Grade for Organization
If your paper has fewer than four paragraph indentations
you will automatically lose 20 points.
1. Does the essay have an introduction, conclusion, and at least two sections in its body?

2. Are the paragraphs arranged in a logical order?

3. Are the most important ideas last?

Minimum of Four Paragraph Indentations

    If you stand on one leg, it is fairly easy to knock you over. The same is true for ideas and essays. If you have only one point, one example, your essay is not very strong. As a result, the basic rule for organization is that every essay you write for me must have at least four paragraph indentations, or it may get all 50's. (Understanding paragraphs can be difficult, but even a third grader can count four paragraph indentations.) The first paragraph is for an introduction and your thesis; the second, third, fourth, etc., for the body; the last, for the ending or conclusion. 
     This four indentation rule is a rule of the course, not of writing essays. The person next to you may hand in a single paragraph and get all A's. That's because she (he) may understand how to use a thesis and topic sentences. If you are not sure of what you are doing, be sure to give me four indentations. In doing so, you will probably be at least working toward an introduction, at least two sections in the body, and a conclusion. If you fail to do this, I will assume that you failed to pay any attention even to the simple things that I say. Hence, the all 50's. 


     An outline reflects the organization of an essay. Outlines (organizations) can be very complex, but I want to start with a very basic example to establish a few points. We will then look at what you can do to get a grade better than a 75 for organization. 

An Example of a Simple, Natural Division, Outline (Grade for "O" = 75%)

    I. Intro & Thesis: The greatest strength of education is the teachers. 
    II. Teacher # 1: Mrs. Evans 
    III. Teacher # 2: Mr. Jameson 
    IV. Teacher # 3: Mr. Bottino 
    V. Closing
This outline reflects what might be a five-paragraph theme. To prove her thesis, the writer probably intends to use three teachers as examples, and to devote a paragraph to each. The outline is related to the body of the essay. Thus the second paragraph of the essay would begin with a topic sentence such as "Mrs. Evans was my eighth grade teacher." The paragraph would then explain how Mrs. Evans made me believe that "the greatest strength of the educational system is the teachers." The fourth paragraph might begin, "The best teacher I have ever known is Mr. Bottino." The paragraph would then discuss Mr. Bottino, for the same reason. 

Put the Most Important Ideas Last

      Psychologists have shown that people get bored. (As if we didn't already know that.) Readers, too, can be bored. (Surprise.) Normally a reader will give a text a few paragraphs to get started. Then the reader's interest begins to decline. If you put your good stuff first, your material will become boring just as the reader is ready to be bored. Therefore, if you have no other reason for putting one thing before another, put your most important ideas last. 
      How will you know (and I judge) what is most important? In some cases, the reasons are obvious: murder is more important than robbery. But most often, there are no logical reasons to guide the organization. But in these cases too, there is a logical principle which should guide you -- the more space you give to an idea, the more important it must be. (Otherwise, why would you give it more space?) 
      If, in the essay that results from the preceding outline, the paragraph about Mrs. Evans is substantially longer than the paragraph about Mr. Bottino, the paper is poorly organized. That is why you need to revise. What you plan, and what you end up with, are often not the same thing. In this case, it would be a simple matter of shifting the two paragraphs. (Since this change is so simple, you would not need to redo the outline. Simply cross out and change the Roman numbers and draw arrows to show what you did.) 
      The preceding outline would earn a solid 75 because it is effective, but very simple. Since A, T, O, D, & S can drag each other up and down, knowing this should be important to you. If you are worried about failing the course, make sure that your outline is at least comparable to this one. All you have to do is find two to four examples to support your thesis, and put each in a paragraph. A 75 for Organization can pull up low grades for A, T, & D. If you want an A or B for your paper, you could still use an outline such as this one. In itself, it gets a 75, but 95's for A, T, D and/or S can pull this outline up to a 90, which would still give you an A for the paper. 

      There are a number of ways to get a better basic grade for Organization. Consider the following: 

An Example of a More Complex Outline (Organization = 80 or 85)

    I. Intro & Thesis: A Student is a person who is trying to learn. 
    II. In School 
            A. Debra Johnson (Student) 
            B. Oliver Goldsmith (Student) 
    III. Out of School 
            A. Mr. Jackson (teacher) 
            B. Mr. Hardaway (stonemason) 
            C. Mrs. Cummings (housewife) 
    IV. Closing
N.B.: Some students confuse the topics in an outline with the details in an essay. In writing the previous outline, I have in mind an essay that will be at least seven paragraphs long -- one for the introduction, one for each of the subdivisions of sections II & III, and one for the closing. Some students have given me an outline such as the one above, and, in grading their papers, they claimed that it matches the sample for a "B" for organization. But their essay had only four paragraphs, and, instead of developing a narrative paragraph for each of the examples, each example was developed in only one or two sentences, or, worse yet, simply listed in the essay. Your outline should be an outline of the paragraph sequence of your paper, not of the details.
In a sense, we could say that the creator of this essay did twice as much thinking. Instead of just listing three examples, this writer has noticed similarities and differences (Sesame Street, again). Thus we get the difference, "In School" and "Out," and under each, we get the examples as further natural divisions. Capital letters subdividing at least one of the Roman number sections will usually put the "O" grade in the 80-85 range -- if the subdivisions make sense. This raises another fundamental point about outlines: items at the same level tend either to be the same kind of thing or to be logical subdivisions of the item above them and to the left. Thus A, B, and C are all examples of "students" who are "out of school." 
      If you haven't realized it yet, outlines are not boxes into which you put things. Instead, they are like tree trunks and branches: they hold major ideas (and the details that will go with them) in place while allowing your ideas to grow. As I look at the preceding outline, I want to change it: 
    I. Intro & Thesis: A Student is a person who is trying to learn. 
    II. In School 
            A. Not Students 
                    1. Danny Dreamer 
                    2. Gwendolyn Gossip 
            B. Students 
                    1. Debra Johnson (Student) 
                    2. Oliver Goldsmith (Student) 
    III. Out of School 
            A. Mr. Jackson (teacher)
            B. Mr. Hardaway (stonemason) 
            C. Mrs.Cummings (housewife) 
    IV. Closing
By adding Danny and Gwendolyn, I intend to show that my definition of "student" differs from the norm. To make the addition, I subdivided a subdivision (which requires further thought and pushes the "O" grade to 85-90. What follows is an outline that would get a 95 and pull the A, T, D, and S grades toward it. 

An "A" Outline (Organization = 95)

    I. Intro & Thesis: The trouble with most teachers is that they don't listen to students. 
    II. Background 
            A. Importance of the problem 
            B. What they do listen to 
    III. Examples of the problem 
            A. In Classroom 
                    1. Professor Garrison Hearst 
                    2. Professor (Doc) Gooden 
            B Out of Classroom 
                    1. Office hours 
                    2. Tests/Quizzes 
    IV. Suggestions for Improvement 
            A. Force students to ask questions 
            B. Try to begin where the students are. 
    V. Closing
The preceding outline is for a problem/solution type paper. It gets an "A" not just because of the subdivisions of subdivisions, but also because of the "Background" section, which attempts to put the problem into a context. 
       Note that the outline is still not complete. In the process of writing, your outline should serve you as a general map of the territory you intend to cover. If I were actually writing the paper, when I got to "II. A. Importance of the Problem," I would have to stop to think of two or three reasons/examples to make my point. Thus II. A. could be further subdivided. 

Tentative Outlines

      "Tentative" means planned, probable, but likely to be changed. Some high school teachers require students to make long, complex outlines and then follow them in writing the paper. But no real writer ever does that. Writing is a slow process, and, as you write, your ideas change and grow. Where you thought you were going is not usually where you end up. Because of this, simpler, tentative outlines are usually more efficient. 
       If I had actually been preparing to use the preceding outline to write a paper, Hearst and Gooden would not have been there under III. A. (They are there so that you can see the organization.) I would have stopped at "III. A. In Classroom," just as I stopped at II. A, knowing that when I'm ready to write that section, I'll subdivide it. Tentative outlines save time, sometimes lots of time, and, if used well, they may even improve your grade. Let's go back, for a moment, to that first simple outline: 

    I. Intro & Thesis: The greatest strength of education is the teachers. 
    II. Teacher # 1: Mrs. Evans 
    III. Teacher # 2: Mr. Jameson 
    IV. Teacher # 3: Mr. Bottino 
    V. Closing
If I were going to write this paper, I would definitely NOT start at Roman number I. I would start at Roman number IV. 
      Let's face it, I'm just as lazy as everyone else. I've been assigned a 500-750 word paper, and I've got my outline. Now I have to start writing. I have already arranged the body of my outline in what I think will be the most important last, i.e., I think I'll have a lot to say about Bottino. (Who was real, and really good.) Experience tells me that once I start writing, if I really want to talk about Bottino, I may have 300 words easily. In fact, I might even easily get 300 words about Mrs. Evans. Now I only need 500, and 25 or so will go into the Introduction, and another 25 into the ending. 300 plus 50 gives me 350. I only need another 150. 
      As lazy as I am, I don't intend to write a 950-word essay: 
    Introduction (25) 
    Evans (300) 
    Jameson (300) 
    Bottino (300) 
    Ending (50)
If I write about Bottino first, and get 300 words, I have several options. I could combine Evans and Jameson into a single 200 word paragraph. I could write about Jameson, find I have 500 words, and drop Evans altogether. And I'll still have my best material, fully developed. But if I start by writing about Evans, I'm liable to find that I have 300 words, get another 300 about Jameson, and still haven't started Bottino. Being lazy, I'll want to drop Bottino -- but he was my best example! So do I still write about Bottino and scrap all the stuff about Evans? What a waste! But then, that's what I deserve for starting at the beginning. 

From Outline to Paragraph

      Moving from that first simple outline to a five-paragraph theme is fairly simple. Each Roman number stands for a paragraph. But things become more difficult when the outlines become more complex (which is one reason that the more complex outlines get higher grades). 
      Many people, including many English teachers, claim that you should start a new paragraph when you change direction or start a new idea. Thus paragraphs are supposed to contain related ideas. Saying that a paragraph contains "related ideas" is like saying blue is a color. It is true, but it doesn't help anything. What is an "idea"? In "The old house fell down," "old" represents an idea, as do "house," "fell," and "down." Since they are in the same sentence, they are obviously related to each other. Are they therefore a paragraph? Where does an "idea" begin? Where does it end? This explanation simply does not explain. (It's no wonder that you may have had trouble with English in school.) 
      The primary purpose for paragraph indentations is to let readers look away from the page (to think, to rest their eyes, to daydream, to note the beautiful weather), and then to find their place on the page easily. Note that newspapers have thin columns with short paragraphs, i.e., lots of indentations. The reason for this is that, in the big cities, many people read the paper while commuting. On busses, trains, and subways, they need lots of opportunities to look up to see if this is their stop, etc. The columns and short paragraphs allow readers to do that and easily find where they stopped reading. The determining factor in paragraphing is amount of text, not ideas. For us, what this means is that your final, double-spaced paper should have from two to five indentations on a page. If there are fewer than two, you are not giving your readers enough chances to look away. If there are more than five, you are making it too difficult to find one's place. The human mind has developed a keen spatial memory, probably from those days when we had to escape wild animals. If you look away from what you are reading, you will remember whether you were on the right page, or the left. You'll remember that you were at the top, the middle, or the bottom. With five indentations, it's not very hard to find one's spot. But beyond five, it becomes difficult. (If you don't believe me, you can easily test the idea out yourself.) 
     O.K. No more than five indentations on a page. But how do you get to that from a complex outline? Let's look at that "A" outline again: 

    I. Intro & Thesis: The trouble with most teachers is that they don't listen to students. 
    II. Background 
            A. Importance of the problem 
            B. What they do listen to 
    III. Examples of the problem 
            A. In Classroom 
                    1. Professor Garrison Hearst 
                    2. Professor (Doc) Gooden 
            B Out of Classroom 
                    1. Office hours 
                    2. Tests/Quizzes 
    IV. Suggestions for Improvement 
            A. Force students to ask questions 
            B. Try to begin where the students are at. 
    V. Closing
The rules sound more complex than they actually are, but here they are: 
    You can start a new paragraph for any item in the outline: you can indent 
            between items of the same level, 
            between items to the left, or to the right. 
    You MUST start a new paragraph if you move down to an item to the left."
Think about it. You want to write about Garrison and Gooden (II. A. 1 & 2). You think that they will both fit in the same paragraph. Begin a draft paragraph with something such as: "In the classroom, teachers rarely listen to students. Professor Garrison Hearst, for example, was the deadest soul ever to sit at the front of a room." Now you have to show Garrison not listening. If he is in your outline, you should have a picture in your head of an instance when he did not listen. Actually, you should have more than one picture, since if it only happened once it may have been an exception to his norm. Problem: You have (a) picture(s) in your head. A picture is worth a thousand words. And you intend to get that picture into four or five sentences? You might (in which case the writing will be either brilliant or awful). If you do, then in the same paragraph, you could continue with: "Doc Gooden wasn't much better." (And squeeze him into four or five sentences, thereby ending up with a 10-12-sentence, somewhat long, but acceptable paragraph.) On the other hand, by the time you explain who asked what question, when, under what circumstances, (and do this more than once so you have more than one example) your paragraph about Hearst could get to be eight to ten sentences. In that case, you could simply indent and begin the next paragraph with "Doc Gooden wasn't much better." 
      Let's assume that your draft is done, and you have two paragraphs, one which begins "In the classroom, teachers rarely listen to students. Professor Garrison Hearst, for example, was the deadest soul ever to sit at the front of a room". and the next begins: "Doc Gooden wasn't much better." The first thing you have to do is to switch the sequence. You yourself have claimed that Hearst was the "deadest soul," and to say that Gooden wasn't much better" still means that he was better. Hearst, in other words, is your most important example, and thus belongs last. (If you are working with a word processor, making the switch is simply a matter of cutting the Gooden paragraph and pasting it after "listen to students." (Then make sure that there is an indent before "Professor Garrison Hearst.")
        But as you look at your draft, you're liable to realize that you could make this argument stronger. You have two developed examples of teachers not listening to students, but you should know of a lot more. If you don't have more examples, your argument is relatively weak. You have already had at least twenty teachers, probably thirty to forty -- and this doesn't include stories from your friends, which you could also use. If only 2 of 20 teachers don't listen, that is only 10% of teachers. Their not listening may be a problem, but the problem would be a lot more serious if you could suggest that 30-40% don't listen. You could easily fit some brief examples into another paragraph: 
          In the classroom, teachers rarely listen to students. When Irene Innocent asked Mr. Henderson, her biology teacher, why she had to dissect a cat, he just told her "because." When Jacob Grammar asked Mrs. Robby why a sentence can't begin with "but," she responded, "That's the rule." When he asked "Why is it a rule?" she told him to stop being a smart-ass. Mr. Digit, in Math, was another non-listener. When students said that they couldn't understand a problem, his stock response was "Read the book." But perhaps the deafest teachers were Doc Gooden and Garrison Hearst. 
          Doc Gooden was not very good when it came to answering students questions. One time Tommy Tinker asked..... Then there was the incident with Mable Marbles. .... 
          But the deadest soul ever to sit at the front of a room was Professor Garrison Hearst. ....
What I have done is to insert several quick example into my essay and outline (III. A. In Classroom), making them a separate paragraph. My argument is stronger because it now has breadth as well as depth. 

      You can, in sum, start a new paragraph at any point, at any level, in your outline. What you should definitely not do is to start a paragraph at a point such as III. A.2 (Doc Gooden), and then include in that paragraph material from III. B. (Out of Classroom), i.e., material from an item to the left. This is simply a convention, but there is a logic behind it. As the system of indenting developed, so did the system of topic sentences. Readers, who are often lazy, have a tendency to skim. Suppose that your reader read about Hearst, agreed with you, started to read about Gooden, and thought, "I've already agreed with this. What's the next point?" The reader might simply skip to the next paragraph, thereby missing the fact that you had switched from in-class to out-of-class examples. Whose fault is the confusion? The writer's, because the writer did not follow a simple convention. 

Other Natural Division Outlines

Problem / Solution

      Writing about problems and/or their solutions is common. The best basic organization for such an essay is simply a form of natural division: 

    I. Introduction/Thesis 
    II The Problem 
    III. Possible Solutions 
    IV. Conclusion
Frequently, however, such writing is not so equally focussed on both problem and solution. If your audience already is familiar with the problem, why bore them? Focus on the solution: 
    I. Introduction/Thesis (Students who sleep in class are a problem which can be solved.) 
    II Background (Summary of the problem)
    III. Ignore them. 
            A. Advantages 
            B. Disadvantages 
    IV. Wake them up. 
            A. Advantages 
            B. Disadvantages 
    V. Fail them. 
            A. Advantages 
            B. Disadvantages 
    VI. Shoot them. (I'm joking.) 
            A. Advantages 
            B. Disadvantages 
    VII. Conclusion
On the other hand, if your audience is probably not aware of the problem, you will be more effective if you devote your space to explaining the problem to them and use your ending paragraph to suggest some possible solutions. (If you can't convince them that it is a problem, they will ignore your solutions anyway.) 

Comparison/Contrast Outlines

      Comparing and contrasting is something that we do every day. (Sesame Street's "same and different" once again.) Whether we are deciding on what to have for supper, what car to buy, or where to stand on an important issue, we need to line up arguments. (Often, your brain does this so quickly in deciding about supper that you don't even realize that you are doing it. But you are. You are considering alternative menus, the taste of each, the cost of each, the ease of preparing each, etc.) The following outline should help you in the major paper assignment in which you need to explain issues in a major controversy: 

    I. Intro & Thesis: There are (two, three, four) primary issues in controversy X. 
    II. Issue # 1 
            A. Side One 
            B. Side Two 
    III. Issue # 2 
            A. Side One 
            B. Side Two 
    IV. Issue # 3 
            A. Side One 
            B. Side Two 
    V. Closing
In working with such an outline, it is very important to keep the sides straight. Suppose, for example, that the controversy concerned the building of a waste-disposal plant, and that the second issue was the effect of the plant on local crops. Depending on how much you had to say about the issue, you might have one paragraph: 
            Another issue is the effect of the plant on the crops. Supporters of the plant claim .... Opponents, however, believe ....
If you had more to say, of course, this could be three or more paragraphs. (See above.) The important point here is that you must put in the references to supporters and opponents. If you do not, your essay will present both sides of the issue as if they are your beliefs, and you will appear to be mentally ill. 

Persuasive Outlines

      In any controversy, most people are somewhere in the middle. They do not know the issues or where they should stand. They are the people whom you are after. (You will never convince the extremists at either end of the argument.) To persuade the people in the middle, the best thing to do is to show them that you have considered both sides of the issue. The outline below illustrates the point-by-point arrangement that is most effective. Its effectiveness results from its clearly meeting every objection from the other side. If you can meet every objection, use the point-by-point; if you can't you may be better off with the block-by-block arrangement. It can hide the fact that you can't meet every argument of the other side. 

An Example of a Point-by-point Persuasive Outline
(Intended as humor)

I. Intro & Thesis: Students who do not hand in papers should be shot. 
II. Background: Description of problem & its frequency 
III. Con: Several objections have been raised to shooting these students. 
        A. Objection # 1: Some students have good reasons. 
                1. Explanation 
                2. Refutation: Exceptions can be made; "papers" is plural. 
        B. Objection # 2: Grades should reflect ability, not work handed in. 
                1. Explanation 
                2. Refutation: Historically, grades have reflected both 
        C. Objection # 3: Students who do not hand in work are doing teachers a favor 
             by creating less work. 
                1. Explanation 
                2. Refutation: Dead students will mean less work for teachers. 
        D. Objection # 4: Cost of hiring an executioner. 
                1. Explanation 
                2. Refutation: Cost of hiring faculty for non-serious students 
        E. Objection # 5: Possible legal problems. 
                1. Explanation 
                2. Refutation: Make entering students sign a contract. 
IV. Additional Pro: And there are still other reasons for shooting. 
        A. Responsibility is the name of the game. 
        B. Fairness to students who do all the work. 
        C. Will eliminate non-serious students 
        D. Will increase the reputation of the college 
                1. Immediate publicity 
                2. Better graduates 
V. Conclusion: Shooting students who do not hand in papers will not only result in more responsible students, a fairer system, the elimination of non-serious students, useless work by teachers, and an increased reputation for the college, it will also help solve the population problem. 

Spatial Organization

      Some descriptive writing is organized according to the spatial relationships of whatever is being described. Museums, for example, often have written tour guides which start at one spot in the museum and then systematically move from one place to the next in the museum. In a few cases, you might have to describe such things as a magazine page or a room. When doing so, the major rule is to be systematic. If you start at the top of the page, go next to the middle and then to the bottom (unless you have a reason for doing something else, such as the middle being the most important). 

Narrative Organization

      A narrative is a story, so the basic principle of organization is time: first this happened, then that. Unlike a simple story, a narrative essay should have a thesis, but unlike natural division essays, the narrative essay's thesis may be implied rather than being directly stated. This means that a narrative does not need a formal introductory paragraph -- you can simply begin telling the story. 
      Because it is a story, rather than a logical argument or presentation, the narrative does not need an outline. There are, however, some organizational points you should consider. Part of the essay should probably include habitual actions (On Saturdays we would....), but most of the essay should focus on things that happened only once (One Saturday ...) To get your reader to visualize the story, it is a good idea to include descriptions of where it happened and what the most important people looked like. This material can be a separate paragraph or spread throughout the narrative paragraphs. 
      Narrative paragraphs are often excellent ways to develop natural division papers. In many of the sample outlines discussed above, for example, the paragraphs (on Doc Gooden, etc.) would be filled with narratives -- examples of what these people did or did not do. 


Natural Division

           There are three basic ways in which an essay can be organized - time, space, and logic. An essay organized primarily by time (First this happened, then that, then that, etc.) is called a "Narrative." Spatial organization is used to write such things as tour guides of museums, colleges, etc. "Natural Division," a term I learned from the work of Sheridan Baker, includes all "natural" logical "divisions." 
          In its simplest form, natural division simply divides a topic into its natural components. If you are discussing politics, a natural division would be Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. In slightly more complex forms, natural division includes breaking a topic into, for example, problem and solutions, or causes and effects. In what is perhaps its most complex form, natural division includes the point-by-point organization of comparison / contrast.
Point-by-Point vs. Block-by-Block Organization
    Note the difference in the following two outlines, each of which is intended to suggest that one pick-up truck (a 1997 Ford) is a better buy than another (a 1997 Ram).  
    Point-by-Point Block-by-Block
    I. Intro & Thesis 
    II. Cost 
            A. Ram 
            B. Ford 
    III. Durability 
            A. Ram 
            B. Ford 
    IV. Load-Capacity 
            A. Ram 
            B. Ford 
    V. Appearance 
            A. Ram 
            B. Ford 
    VI. Safety
            A. Ram 
            B. Ford
    VII. Conclusion
    I. Intro & Thesis
    II. Ram 
            A. Cost 
            B. Durability 
            C. Load-Capacity 
            D. Appearance 
            E. Safety 
    III. Ford 
            A. Cost 
            B. Durability 
            C. Load-Capacity 
            D. Appearance 
            E. Safety 
    IV. Conclusion
       Point-by-point organization makes the points of comparison the major ideas and deals with the items to be compared as sub-points of each. Block-by-block, on the other hand, makes the items to be compared the major sections. 
          Block-by-block organization is inherently weaker at making comparisons. Note that if it is used, the reader must deal with the durability, load-capacity, appearance and safety of the Ram before getting to the cost information on the Ford. In point-by-point organization, on the other hand, the reader can compare the costs of the two trucks and either agree or disagree with the writer. What the writer wants, of course, is for the reader to say "Good point!" Point-by-point makes this much easier for the reader to do. Block-by-block is best used when the writer's argument is weak.
Topic Sentence
    A topic sentence states the main idea of a paragraph, just as a thesis states the main idea of an essay. Not every paragraph in an essay needs a topic sentence. Sometimes, as a writer develops an idea, an example started in one paragraph will continue into the next several paragraphs.


     Details are specific, concrete examples that illustrate and support your thesis. They can make an otherwise unimpressive paper very interesting -- and thus good. An essay without details is like a person without clothes: it may interest a few people, but most people will find it disgusting.

Criteria for Assigning a Grade for Details

1. Unfortunately, details are not something that can be quantified (It is not a matter of how many there are.), nor are there any options that can be suggested (as there are for outlines and organization). To check your paper for details, read it through, looking for where you (and thus your reader) can ask, "For example." Wherever this question applies, you've got a hole that needs to be plugged.

2. Details should include names of people, places, and things: not "a car," but "a 1982 Lynx."

     Most readers will not find an essay without details "disgusting," as I said in bold print above, but they will find it boring or meaningless. Suppose you want to write about gun control. Thousands of people have opinions about it. There are, in fact, so many opinions out there that the neutral people in the middle are bored by the subject. To keep their attention, and, perhaps, to get them on your side, you need reasoned opinions. A reasoned opinion is simply one that is based on facts and details. For example, what type of guns are you talking about? What specific controls are you thinking about. Instant background checks are not the same as a three-day waiting period. And, if we are to have instant background checks, whom will they stop from buying a weapon? Will it be anyone convicted of a "felony"? What is a "felony?" Isn't tax evasion a felony? So, if someone cheats on their taxes and is caught and convicted, they can't buy a gun, but the person convicted of assaulting his wife can? The devil, as Professor Sprinsky once told me, is in the details. (You will see another example of this when we discuss a law against burning the U.S. flag.) 

Examples or Details?

      The distinction between an example and a detail is not always clear, but in many cases it can be. Suppose we were discussing a law against burning the flag, and someone asked "What would the punishment be?" Death, banishment, jail, and fines are examples of "punishment." "Details," on the other hand, are the specifics of banishment, jail, fines, etc. When you get into details, you get into questions such as "Will the fine be $50, or $5,000"? For the first offense, or the second? To write with details, you may have realized, means that you must know what you are writing about and have done some thinking. And that is precisely what makes a reasoned opinion worth reading and not boring. 
      Details are often the life of an essay. If I have not already done so, I will be sharing with you some essays by students about my dying and going to hell. What makes these essays enjoyable, even though they all share the same thesis, is the difference in details. One student noted my red pipe (appropriate for hell); another noted my regularly trying to get coffee from an empty thermos. A third noted the hair that sticks up on the back of my head. (I have a double cow-lick, as the hairdressers call it.) These details make readers say, with enjoyment, "Oh, that's him all right." Pleased readers mean a good essay. 
      In other types of essay, different kinds of details may be appropriate. Often, you can add these in the process of revising. I might, for example, have written "The value of sports cards has been declining drastically." I should, however, follow that with details: "The Darryl Strawberry 1983 Topps rookie card, for which I paid $100, is now worth $18. And David Klingler's rookie card, which sold for over a dollar two years ago, is now a $.05 common." 
      Quotations are another important type of detail, especially when you are dealing with controversial issues. You may have strong feelings about when a human life begins, but many of the arguments about it involve medical questions. Since you are not an M.D., why should anyone believe you about the answers to these medical questions? You can, however, strengthen your argument by quoting doctors and other medical specialists. 
Louie forgot his details.
If you write without them, 
you will be embarrassed.


     The outline of a paper is its skeleton; the details are flesh and clothes. "Style" can be compared to grooming: bathing, combing your hair, wearing jewelry, etc. Just as you care about your physical appearance, so should you care about the style of your writing.

Criteria for Assigning a Grade for Style

     Your basic grade for style is based on a combination of sentence structure, grammar, vocabulary, and spelling. How point values are assigned is difficult to explain. In practice, you will get a basic grade for style minus various penalty points for specific errors. You can earn the penalty points back. (See Additional Requirements for Major Papers.) The basic grade is determined by my sense (based on 20 years of experience) of how your style compares to that of other students who are taking and have taken the course. In editing your paper for style, consider the following:

1. Is the sentence structure (syntax) at least comparable to that of a high school senior (13 words/main clause)?

2. Are words chosen carefully to say exactly what the writer meant?

3. Are there spelling and/or grammatical errors?

   As much as you may hate the idea, people are judged by their appearance -- and so are essays. What is here termed "style" is often what many readers notice first. In drafting your essay, you should not even be thinking about style -- except for the thesis sentence. The words in the thesis and the construction of that sentence create a contract with the reader, a contract which it is your job to fulfill in the essay. You therefore want to be sure that you have that sentence down correctly and clearly. With that exception, you can forget about style until you are ready to edit your essay. 


     Some middle and high school teachers reward students for using big words. This is college -- you get rewarded for writing something meaningful clearly. Don't use big words unless you are absolutely sure that you know what they mean. Whenever possible, replace vague words with specific ones: many - five; animal - raccoon; sports - tennis and golf. (Notice that A, T, O, D & S really are interrelated. By replacing vague words with specific ones, you are adding <D>etails to your essay, and the details will help your <A>udience understand your <T>hesis. ) 

Sentence Structure

      We will spend a fair amount of time in class discussing sentence structure. My primary concern here is twofold: Do you mean what your sentences say? And, does your sentence structure confuse your readers? Other considerations are sentence length and variety. 


     "Usage" is that part of grammar which concerns social etiquette. There is no logical reason for not writing "Me and Bill went to the races." Nor is there anything "wrong" with the Williamsport infinitive: "My car needs washed." But if either of the preceding appear in your essay, readers in other parts of the country will think that you (the writer) are an uneducated country bumpkin. Part of my job is to enable you to move to Los Angeles, or anywhere else, and to be able to write "standard" English. In "standard" English, putting yourself first is considered to be impolite, and "me" is used as an object, not as a subject, i.e.: "Bill and I went to the races." Don't ask me why, but the majority of the country puts a "to be" between "needs" and the infinitive, so most people say "My car needs to be washed." Problems with usage may keep you from an A for Style, but they will not, in themselves, result in an F. 


     Misspelling "to" can confuse readers; misspelling "a lot" never does, but it does irritate many of them. My way of handling this problem is to put misspelled words that you should have spelled correctly at the top of your paper and then to hold your grade hostage at a 50 until you do something about it before the next paper is due. In some cases, you will have to write a few sentences 50 times. (See Additional Major Paper Requirements.) My objective is not to make you write sentences fifty times; it is to get you to check your work for spelling. You can do that by editing out the spelling errors before you hand a paper in. Spelling checkers have made life a lot easier for many of us -- if you use a word processor, but do not use the spelling checker, you give the impression that you do not care about your work. If you don't care, why should anyone else? 

 This border is a reproduction of
MICHELANGELO di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni's 
(b. 1475, Caprese, d. 1564, Roma) 
  Creation of Adam (1510)
 from the Web Gallery of Art
[for educational use only]
Click here for the directory of my backgrounds based on art.