We read to understand, and we write or speak to be understood; details are vital to building that understanding. You have all heard snippets of conversation that seem very odd when heard without the rest of the conversation. News and social media are notorious for taking quotations out of context – something we call a “sound bite.”
Why is it a problem to take a sentence out of context?
In-Class Exercise: Context and Details
Read the assigned reading and take notes on the following. After taking notes, be ready to discuss:
- What is the author’s point in this reading?
- How did the author support the point?
- What details did the author provide to give you this idea?
Connect the dots: Organizing with Transitions
When you are analyzing a reading, or planning an essay, supporting details are simply listed without context. When analyzing a reading, the reader needs to use the Reading Process in order develop the context before taking notes so that there is clarity about what is important in the text. A writer, of course, has a context in mind when planning an essay, and adds this in with supporting details and transitions.
It may seem like organizing supporting details is pretty ‘cut and dried.’ To some degree this is true, however, an author’s intent has a great deal to do with how details get organized. The system of organization an author selects also affects the kinds of transition words and phrases an author uses. Some different kinds of organizational patterns include: Cause and Effect, Chronological, Process, Comparison and Contrast, among many others. Transition words will signal these kinds of organizational patterns.
A compare and contrast pattern arranges information according to how two or more things are similar to or different from one another (or both). This is an effective pattern to use when the reader can better understand one subject when it is described in relation to another. If the reader is familiar with one topic, the writer can compare or contrast it with another topic to shed insight on it.
For example, suppose a writer’s stated purpose is to help the reader make an informed decision about whether to attend a two-year college or a four-year university. One way to arrange the information is to compare and contrast the two educational options along several important criteria, such as 1) cost, 2) quality of education, and 3) variety of educational programs. In this case, the number of main sections in the outline would depend on how many criteria or factors were considered (three in the case above). Another way to arrange the information would be to create two main sections, one that describes similarities and one that describes differences; within the sections, the writer would evaluate each of the criteria as noted above. Notice that either format could be equally effective.
A chronological pattern of organization arranges information according to a progression of time, either forward or backward. When a topic is best understood in terms of different segments of time, a chronological format works well. For example, topics of an historical nature are best organized using this pattern.
This pattern is the most commonly used format, and will typically work when the other patterns do not. A topical pattern arranges information according to different sub-topics within a larger topic, or the “types” of things that fall within a larger category. Using this pattern, each “type” represents a main section of information.
For example, suppose a writer wished to describe various types of wine. One way to outline this information would be to divide the type of wine by its color. A second way would be to divide the types of wine by the region in which they were made.
More often than not, you will find yourself using a combination of organizational patterns, particularly in analysis. For instance, while using a topical organization for your essay on wine, you could also use a compare-contrast pattern within each topic to evaluate the wines you’re using.