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Patterns of Development
A pattern of development in writing refers to the particular strategy writers use to develop ideas. Whether you are aware of it or not, you already use patterns of development to express yourself. When you show someone how to make an omelette, change a tire, or set up an instant messaging account, you are using a pattern of development called "process analysis"; when you describe what your roomate looks like when she gets up in the morning you are using "description"; when you offer several reasons why you are late for an appointment, you are using cause and effect; and when you tell the story of your first date, you are using narration. Learning to use these patterns of development in writing is not difficult: you will need to familiarize yourself with key transitional expressions that send a signal to the reader that a particular pattern is being used, and you will need to make conscious decisions about which strategies best develops your ideas.
Objectives: By the end of this module students should be able to
Writers use descriptive paragraphs most often in fiction. Just think of lines like "It was a dark and stormy night," or "The mountains loomed above them." Description of time and place draws readers into other worlds and sets the stage where a story can unfold. Description of characters, their appearance, mannerisms, and utterances, helps us imagine what people are like, as in this description of Caroline Meeber by Theodore Dreiser in his novel Sister Carrie:
In this type of description, the author is describing an impression of what is observed. What is described is subjective: the reader experiences the world as it appears to the author or the narrator in a story and learns what is important to the person recording the description.Objective Description:
Description is also used in reportorial and scientific writing, or other writing in which the goal is to present an objective picture of an object or scene. In these writing situations, the writer attempts to stay away from emotional impressions or responses, and instead report what is seen, as a video camera records a scene, as in the following example:
It is important to note that while being objective may be a writer's goal, getting past biases can be difficult. What a writer notices and chooses to describe as well as what a writer leaves out of a description is influenced by many factors: the purpose for writing, how the writer feels about the subject, the writer's age, ethnic and cultural background, cultural contexts for writing, and gender, too. Therefore, part of writing good objective description, is being aware of one's own biases.
Whether your goal is to write objective or subjective description, your paragraph should have a clear controlling idea so that your reader knows what to do with your descriptive details. In subjective description, that controlling idea should be a dominant impression of a particular scene or person. Supporting details should help the reader understand the dominant impression. For example, "It was a gloomy morning," is an example of a dominant impression. Good supporting details could include "The morning air felt damp and cold. People huddled inside their coats."
In an objective description, the controlling idea should identify the object, scene, or person to be described as objectively as possible and the descriptive details of the paragraph should add substance to the main point. Nothing should be included in the paragraph that does not support the controlling idea.
When detectives cover crime scenes, writing accurate and clear reports of their observations is an essential skill. Typically, in these reports, detectives will take a spatial approach: paragraphs have controlling ideas that identify an area of the crime scene to be explored, for example, "Outside the entrance to the apartment we found evidence of break-in," and then the rest of the paragraph will present the evidence found in that location demonstrating the detective's general conclusion.
In both subjective and objective description, organizing details around clear controlling ideas is essential. You may experience a scene or a person as a holistic impression; however, if your reader is to understand what your observations mean, the details must be organized in a meaningful way on the page.
Dreiser, Theodore. Sister Carrie. 1900.
Seiberling, Stephen, et. al. "Common Trees of the North Carolina Piedmont." Open Key: Illinois-North Carolina Collaborative Environment for Botanical Resources. <http://www.ibiblio.org/openkey/intkey/web/ACBA3.htm>
A narrative is a story. As a method of development, storytelling can be very effective for the simple reason that people love to hear stories, and will tune in to a story when their eyes glaze over at other styles of writing. Even when your purpose is to write an essay that is primarily to inform, analyze or argue, a narrative paragraph can be effective at drawing the reader in and establishing your voice in the essay. For instance, at the beginning of an essay on the problems caused by excessive instant messaging by young teens, a writer might tell a brief story about the limited options she had for socializing outside of school in the 1970's to illustrate how substantially socializing patterns have changed.
Writing a Narrative Paragraph:
Action Verbs and Transitional Expressions:
A story takes place over a period of time and is built around people doing things—thinking, talking, running, etc. Therefore, narrative paragraphs are characterized by words that show action and words that show sequence. Consider the folllowing narrative paragraph from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, paying particular attention to the action verbs and transitional expressions to show sequence:
For the most part, logical sequence of actions supplies the narrative sequence: "I took off. . . I heard guns . . . I worked along under the trees." By virtue of the linear arrangement of these sentences on the page, the reader assumes the actions take place in sequence. However, here and there, transitions are needed to emphasize important time relationships, as in the phrase "by and by." Below are some of the common transitional expressions used in narrative writing:
These phrases do call attention to themselves, so it is wise to use logic most of the time to show sequence.
The Controlling Idea in Narrative Paragraphs:
The controlling idea in a narrative paragraph presents some difficulty for developing writers in that they think of a story as a series of events without natural breaks. However, a controlling idea is important, even in a narrative paragraph, because it gives the reader information about what to do with the details that follow. In a narrative paragraph it is useful to think of paragraphs as scenes, and the controlling idea as a kind of wide angle shot on the scene. Further shots take the reader into the scene emphasizing details and actions that will take place in that scene. For example, in the previous paragraph from Huckleberry Finn, the controlling idea for the scene is "I took up the river road as hard as I could put." What follows is what happened when he took off and went up the river road—he hides in a tree from the men with guns. A new paragraph will begin when the scene changes, or when our attention is directed toward a new event—which in the case of Huckleberry Finn is the arrival of the men with guns.
Concrete and Specific Detail:
Descriptive details in a narrative paragraph are essential to a good story. Details help readers to connect to the world the author envisions. Good writers, therefore, spend a lot of time trying to find the right words for their meaning, choosing concrete and specific expressions, rather than abstract or general ones. Consider the difference between the general and specific, and abstract and concrete expressions below to see what a difference the right words can make:
The concrete and specific expressions get a reader's attention far more effectively than the abstract and general expressions do. A reader can imagine specific things far more readily than general concepts. Part of your revision process should included finding concrete and specific expressions for your ideas.
A process analysis is a discussion of the steps one must take to achieve a particular end. Some process analysis writing is intended for an audience that needs to learn how to perform a process themselves, for example, fixing a bent bicycle wheel, quitting smoking, finding a good job. Other process analysis writing is informative rather than instructional; examples of this type include how to resolve the healthcare crisis, and how to rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Some process analyses work on both levels, for example, a discussion about how to respond to global warming will probably be both instructional and informative: individuals can take many steps to control global warming, but other steps must be taken by corporations and governments as well; the reader reads such texts for understanding as well as instruction.
Writing a Process Analysis
Typically, the steps in the process being described happen in sequence over time, and so are presented in chronological order. Process analysis paragraphs also depend on transitional expressions such as "first," "second," "then," and "finally," to indicate the sequence in which steps are to be taken.
Audience awareness is extremely important in process analysis writing. The writer must have a clear sense of the audience in order to know what to include, what to leave out, how technical to be, and how formal or informal to be. Asking questions before beginning writing is key: What does my audience already know about this topic? Which key terms and concepts might they already be familiar with? Which terms will I need to define? Consider the difference in these two descriptions of how to build a web page:
Both examples show how to build a web page, but the author of the second example assumes his audience has a great deal more starting knowledge on the topic than the author of the first example. The second author assumes the reader is familiar with terms like "FTP," "Telnet," and "server." The first author assumes his audience has no knowledge of key terms. In addition, the authors take different tones with the reader. The first author is very informal and friendly (even including a smiling cartoon of himself); the second author is formal and more detached.
When writing your own process analysis paragraph, take the time to decide who you think your audience is going to be, and write for that audience.
Barta, Joe. "So you want to make a web page." PageTutor.com. <http://www.pagetutor.com/html_tutor/index.html>
"How to Create a Web Page." <http://www.make-a-web-site.com/>
Division & Classification
Division and classification are related methods for organizing objects or information. In division, we divide a general category of things into smaller subcategories. For example, "There are three main problems associated with living across from a highschool: noise, trash, and traffic congestion." In classification, we develop criteria for the items in a subcategory based on relationships between the items. Consider your favorite music store: the compact discs are organized into many subcategories such as country, rock, hip-hop, dance music, world music, classical, jazz, soundtracks, etc. We understand that Garth Brooks recordings will be in the country music category because we know that Garth Brooks' music shares certain characteristics with other music in the group: a guitar as the main instrument, a country twang in his vocals, themes of heartache, homesickness, country life, etc.
Classification sometimes refers to a ranking system by which things or persons are evaluated. For example, a classification system is used in the military to rank officers, and hotels are ranked and classified according to quality, cleanliness, and other features. Neighborhoods are ranked by prospective home buyers according to criteria such as schools, crime rate, noise, etc. If you are asked to write a classification paragraph or essay, be sure to examine the writing prompt to see if your instructor is looking for you to develop a complete classification system that allows one to evaluate items according to specific criteria.
Division and classification make it easy for individuals to locate what they are looking for, but these organizational methods are also useful for understanding complex problems or issues: For example, by dividing cancer into more than 100 different types, medical professionals are better able to analyze the disease; and by looking at different groups suffering from poverty—for example, the elderly, the sick, and those who are unable to find work—we are better able to combat the crisis.
Using Division and Classification in Your Writing:
To use division and classification successfullly, you must first have a strong sense of purpose. Without this sense of purpose, your system for dividing and/or classifying information may not meet your needs. For example, if you pack for a camping trip without taking the context of your trip in mind, you could end up with all the wrong things; you could have sleepwear suited for a warm bed rather than a cold forest floor, or uncomfortable street shoes to hike in rather than hiking boots. In writing an essay involving division and/or classification, knowing your goal is also important. For example, a student might write an essay about the problems created in society by the cell phone; for this student, dividing these problems into categories—cell phones as a social problem, and cell phones as a cause of accidents and physical injury—will help the student develop a clear argument. Classifying cell phones according to size, price, convenience, and appearance would not be an effective system for this argument.
Topic sentence in division and classification paragraphs:
Typically, in the topic sentence of a division paragraph (or in the thesis of an essay that relies on division as the primary method of development) writers will use enumeration to prepare the reader for the content, as in "There are two main problems associated with . . . " or "We can proceed in one of three ways." In a classification paragraph, the topic sentence might also involve enumeration, but the emphasis is likely to be on the ranking of the different divisions, or the criteria that chacterize items in a group, for example, "Most states recognize two types of murder," or "Ponds have several characteristics that differentiate them from lakes."
Checklist for division and classification paragraphs:
You may associated the word "illustration" with images that accompany a story in a picture book; in illustrated books, the picture helps to illuminate or clarify the meaning in the text. Illustration also refers more generally to clarification through exemplification. Writers use examples to make a general idea clear—to illustrate an idea. The illustration may be one long, extended example, or it may be several short examples. It may be a story, an anecdote, a quotation, or a statistic. The key to a good illustration, however, no matter which form it takes, is that it sheds light on the general idea. Consider the following examples:
Using illustration in your writing:
Once you have a clear sense of an idea you want to illustrate, you need to decide on the form of illustration you will use:
A series of examples or statistical information can be persuasive, as in the following example,
In each paragraph, the main idea is developed through a list of concrete examples, making the idea clear and real.
A single, long illustration allows you to get in depth and explore facets of an idea. This technique is useful if you are exploring a complex idea, as in the following illustration from an essay on e-voting. The writer uses the story of Bev Harris' discovery of easy vote database access to illustrate how hackable computer vote databases can be:
You may also choose to use quotations to illustrate an idea. This technique is useful when you are writing a literary analysis, or a biography. Consider this paragraph about Caeser Chavez from Wikipedia:
"Caesar Chavez." Wikipedia.org. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C%C3%A9sar_Ch%C3%A1vez>
Keim, Brandon. "Hacking your body's bacteria for better health." Wired.com. 2007. <http://www.wired.com/medtech/health/news/2007/04/bacteriahacking>
Zetter, Kim. "How e-voting threatens democracy." Wired.com. 2004. <http://www.wired.com/politics/security/news/2004/03/62790>
In a definition paragraph, the writer's goal is to help the reader understand new terms or concepts, or to come to new understanding of terms they may be familiar with. Definition is very important in the sciences, where the terminology is extensive and discipline-specific. In defining scientific terms, a writer should be as objective as possible, and when impressions are essential, the writer should strive to use analogies and impressions that the reader can readily identify with. In the humanities, on the other hand, definitions can be more subjective. A writer may wish to define complex terms such as "heartache," "luck," or "democracy" in a personal way. Compare the following scientific definition with a highly subjective definition:
The second paragraph is taken from an essay-length definition of "idiocy" by Ian Frazer. He goes on to give examples of his idiocy and then conclude that his idiocy is just not his fault.
To write a definition paragraph (or essay), a writer must identify the term being defined, provide a basic or general definition, and then provide clear detail to support the definition. A definition can be developed in a number of ways. The method(s) you choose should be determined by the term you are defining. Below are some common methods of definition:
By characteristics or features: Scientific definitions typically rely on this type of definition. Physical features as well as behaviors (as in animal or cell behavior) may be a part of this type of definition.
By function: how something works, or what it does can be an important part of definition.
By what it is not: Ironically, we can get a pretty good sense of what something is like, by learning what it is not, or what it is lacking.
By what it is similar to: Comparison and analogy help us understand things that are unfamiliar to us.
By example: Giving examples illustrating what the term means can be highly effective, as in the above definition of "idiocy."
By its origins: Providing a history of what a term has meant can help us understand its current meaning. For example, the slang term "wimp" comes from the term "wimple," which refers to a head scarf women wore in mediaeval Europe. Exploring the evolution of the term could yield interesting insight into the connotations of the contemporary term.
By its effect: Discussing what effects the subject produces is important with certain subjects or in certain contexts. For example, in an essay on global warming, a definition of CO2 emissions emphasizing the consequences of these emissions to the environment would be important.
"Bacterial Endocarditis." American Heart Association. <http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4436>
Frazer, Ian. "What I am." The New Yorker.com.
Cause & Effect
A cause and effect development techniques are typically discussed together. However, in a particular paragraph, one or the other will be emphasized. A paragraph emphasizing the causes of something typically begins with an effect; the purpose of the paragraph is to explore how that effect came to be—to show what caused it. In a paragraph emphasizing the effects of something, a writer begins with a particular cause, then explores the consequences or effects of this cause. Look at the examples below:
Writing a cause & effect paragraph or essay:
In a cause and/or effect paragraph, the writer needs to know which factor to emphasize: causes or effects, and why it is important to discuss a cause and effect relationship in the first place. It is not Ok to write "There are several causes and effects for . . . " A controlling idea like this merely establishes a fact; no purpose has been identified for discussing the cause and effect relationship.
Using transition words to emphasize cause and effect relationships between ideas is useful.
In an analysis paragraph, the goal is to understand a subject by examining its parts. For example, a writer might analyze the setting in a short story to better understand the theme of the story, or a student in an anthropology class might write an analysis of broken pottery shards found on the site of an 18th century dwelling to support conclusions about the wealth and status of the family who lived on the site, or a detective might write an analysis of evidence found at a crime scene to support a conclusion about the perpetrator of the crime. Take a look at the following example of an analysis of setting in the novel Hard Times. The author analyzes scenes from the text to support an interpretation of their significance in the larger context of the novel:
The overall argument here is that Charles Dickens wants readers to see 19th century factory towns as strange, disorienting places. The writer presents several examples as evidence for this interpretation.
Writing an Analysis Paragraph:
Strong analysis depends on a clear sense of purpose, solid evidence, and careful explanation of the significance of the evidence. The first thing a writer must do in writing the analytical paragraph is develop a sense of confidence about what should be asserted about a subject. To get to this point of confidence takes hard work: rereading a text or examining a subject several times to become familiar with the contents, doing research, taking notes, and then deciding what the evidence suggests. Once a writer has developed an interpretation of or conclusion about a subject, evidence must be selected that best supports the interpretation or conclusion. Finally, the writer needs to present the evidence in an orderly way and provide enough explanation of the evidence for the reader to understand how it relates to and supports the writer's idea.
Analogy can be highly effective for extended definitions because in analogy, one explains something that is difficult to understand through comparison with something that is more readily understood. For example, a complex experience like falling in love might be explained in a rose analogy. A rose blooms, it is delicate and beautiful, a rare beauty in nature; but it also has thorns, and eventually dies. Rather a cynical view of love in the end, if one chooses to emphasize the thorns of the rose. There are no perfect analogies; all analogies break down at some point; however, in spite of this fact, analogies are quite useful. Consider Neil Postman's analogy between a certain kind of preachy television commercial and religious parables that "put forward a concept of sin, intimations of the way to redemption, and a vision of Heaven":
The parable is highly useful in explaining the stress such television commercials cause the viewer.
Writing an analogy:
Writing analogy is one of the more difficult forms of writing, but it can also be a lot of fun. A good way to get started is to use the phrase (subject) is like . . . Search your brain for the features of your subject and see if you can think of other subjects that share these features. Take a look at the famous analogies below to see how the process works . . .
Finally, when developing your analogy, make sure that there are no key features of the items being compared that are obviously incompatible, or the analogy won't work. As mentioned earlier, every analogy eventually breaks down, and that is to be expected, but key features of the items being compared should be present in both subjects.
3. Process Analysis
4. Division & Classification
7. Cause and Effect