Composition


"Putting it (all) together" is how we literally speak of com-posing. In this page, we'll learn how effective writers have both an intuitive and explicit sense of their writings at both global and local levels. That is, they have the "big picture" in mind, and they are conscious of the "little steps" by which they will bring that "big picture" into view.

Rhetorical Moves
Cohesion ("Flow")
Metadiscourse
Working With Sources
MLA Documentation Style

Rhetorical Moves


As with all genres of writing, there are certain expected "rhetorical moves" (Swales) whereby the writer accomplishes his or her rhetorical ends (or "aims"). Whether genres are written or spoken, we learn these genres by following a kind of "program" already laid out for us by previous generic examples.* Genres, as many scholars argue, are deeply embedded within social situations that follow certain discernible types. On this view, when we speak of genres, we are talking not only of the forms discourse takes, but also of the "forms of life" (Wittgenstein) or the Sitz em Leben (Ger., "situation in life") giving rise to these forms. So considered, genres allow us to keep the social orientation of rhetoric ever in view.

Take the speech genre (Bakhtin) of making introductions with new acquaintances. While we may feel excited or nervous in these rhetorical situations, there is the tempering or comforting knowledge that we are possessed of some stand-by rhetorical "moves" guiding us through these situations. Because these things are so widely assumed, most people know the "rules" of the language game (Wittgenstein) and so get through the "play" with relative ease without having to give the matter much thought. To use yet another metaphor, we know the "roles" we are to play, as though we were reading a script: indeed, some theorists of communication have called the protocols for these situations "social scripts." However we choose to speak of it, there are "ways we have come to know these situations" (Bawarshi), what we are here calling the rhetorical moves of the genre.

So what happens, generally speaking, when we make introductions with new acquaintances? Here's one way in which an introduction at a social function might typically go:

  1. Exchange of greeting and names (e.g., "Hi, my name is ...")
  2. Plesantry (e.g., "Nice to meet you")
  3. Remark upon accidents of the situation (e.g., "Nice party" or "Lovely weather we are having")
  4. Inquiry into origins and/or occupation (e.g., "What brings you here?" or, "What do you do for a living?")
  5. Answering inquiry (e.g., "Well, I've just come from ...")
  6. Probing for subject of mutual interest (e.g., "Are you much into music?")
  7. Elaborating on subject of mutual interest (e.g., "I really enjoyed The Dark Side of the Moon")

After this, it is to be hoped the conversation will begin to feel easy to both participants, and that information will be exchanged and rapport will be built within the framework of the familiarand familiarizinggenre. As often happens, however, many conversations do not progress much further than these steps, and efforts at further rhetorical engagement are abandoned. One reason this happens, aside from want of that "click" people look for at the beginning of new friendships, is that there is no shared knowledge of rhetorical moves beyond this place. So long as moves of the genre are grasped by both parties, though, it is likely communication will continue.

What about the moves required in academic papers? There are simply too many to list exhaustively in this page. However, we can talk about the larger moves that arrange and render recognizable the major, significant portions of the papernamely, the Introduction, the Discussion Section and the Conclusion, to speak of one common structure. Of course, these sections are themselves "moves," their labels corresponding to the function of the rhetorical maneuver(s) typically associated with them: an Introduction serves, for example, to introduce the reader to the material and establish relevance for it.

Introduction


In academic papers, says John Swales, there are three major "moves" that occur within the Introduction, which he describes through an "ecological metaphor": (1) Identifying a Territory, (2) Establishing a Niche and (3) Occupying a Niche. The following document will illustrate with more specifics.



Discussion Section


The Discussion Section (commonly called the "body") is where the paper's central claim (thesis) will be substantiated. Of course, while this major claim is being demonstrated (argued for), other, minor (but still essential) claims will be made. As we saw with the Toulmin model, the grounds or support offered for a claim may itself be disputed (or debatable) and so need further support. In such instances, support may be treated as claims and analyzed as such.



Conclusion


While it often gives students its fair share of trouble, the Conclusion need not be looked upon as an obstacle or some redundant bit of writing to get through just because the instructor (and the genre) requires it. In fact, the Conclusion is really an opportunity to take yet another look at the support in the Discussion Section and the material in the Introduction to see whether we might add anything further. Here, the writer gets another chance to make an appeal for the major claim, where it is presented with yet further support or, as may happen, broader implications the paper has only touched upon.

Besides simple summary, then, the Conclusion can do several things. It can (1) shed more light on assertions, (2) provide new aspects of the topic to consider, (3) place the paper in a broader context, (4) engage the controversy once more and offer a solution or, (5) surprisingly, it can even challenge the argument made previously. In the following example, we will see how the Conclusion follows strategy (1).



Below are examples of all five strategies.




Cohesion ("Flow")


When impressed with what they're reading, people often give the compliment that the writing "flows" well. This remark about style sounds very nice indeed—it's better than if it "hops around" (the usual opposite)—but what, precisely, do people mean when they say such things? What they mean is something linguists call "cohesion."

As the name implies, the metaphor points to how the elements of text "stick" or "hold together." This is a different metaphor from the fluid one used with "flow," but both point to the same phenomenon in a text.

So what is this phenomenon? First, let's separate the grammar of a clause (sentence) from the cohesionof a discourse. Syntax, or the rules for the structure in a clause, is what grammar deals with. One cannot speak of grammar across sentences, only within them. But we know there are ways in which sentences link with one another, resulting in a discourse that makes sense across sentences. This is where cohesion comes in.

Cohesion happens in a variety of ways, and linguists can get dizzyingly technical in describing how it occurs. For our purposes, however, we can get by just fine by focusing on just a few ways:

  1. Conjunctions
  2. References
  3. Ellipses
  4. Lexical cohesion

1. Conjunctions include the use of the conjunctions typically thought of (and, but, or, for, so, nor, yet), but also of others such as "well," "oh," "of course," "however," and so on.

Example: Take care you don't lose that paper on your way to class. And don't forget to staple it all together.

2. References can be directed in two ways: outside the text and inside the text. For instance, by referring to this class, I am not referring to anything which may be located within this website. However, when the class is brought up within the text of this website on one more than one occasion, a "chain of reference" linking elements of the text together begins.

Example: When you come to class (first mention, outside the text), don't forget to bring your supplies. Class tends to run smoothly when students come prepared.

3. Ellipses, as M. A. K. Halliday explains, "leave[s] out part of a structure when they can be presumed from what has gone before." English works nicely in this respect in that it allows certain omissions to be made when all communicative parties understand that what is being omitted was mentioned previously in the discourse and so does not now need to be mentioned in the same way as before.

Example: I have to say, that really was an interesting film we just saw. Oh, do you think so?

Another example, from an above paragraph: As often happens, however, many conversations do not progress much further than these steps, and rhetorical efforts are abandoned. One reason this

4. Lexical cohesion occurs when individual words create ties across sentences. This may happen with the use of the same word, with synonyms or with pronouns. (You will notice how "Reference" here may overlap with "Lexical cohesion.")

Example, also from an above paragraph: In this page, we'll learn how effective writers have both an intuitive and explicit sense of their writings at both global and local levels. That is, they have the "big picture" in mind, and they are conscious of the "little steps" by which they will bring that "big picture" into view.

Memorizing these different ways in which cohesion happens is not necessary. When it comes to cohesion, you need answer only one, very simple question: "Is there anything in this sentence that also shows up in the following sentence?" If the answer to that is "yes," then you see cohesion at work, and those two sentences may be said to "flow" together.

Metadiscourse


The issue of metadiscourse (sometimes called "metacommentary") actually belongs under the heading of cohesionas well as under rhetorical movesbut it is involved enough that it merits consideration on its own.

Linked here are two entries on metadiscourse and how it is used.

On Metadiscourse

More Metadiscourse

Working With Sources


Working with sources is one of the indispensable skills of writing for academic audiences. Scholars are scholars because they've got their heads in bookslots of books. In these books (sources of all sorts, really) are a lot of different ideas, and it's important to keep these ideas straight, especially when writing about them for academic audiences. That is, we have to be sure of what was said, who said it, and how it was said.

What Was Said


There are three basic ways to deal with what was said. You may summarize, or give a condensed version of the "main points" out of the selected work you wish to highlight for your audience. Summaries will always be significantly shorter than the source material. Secondly, you may quote, or reproduce the exact words of your source and mark off those words by use of quotation marks. Or, finally, you may paraphrase, or "put what the author said into your own words." There are three simple rules to remember for paraphrasing:

  1. The length must be roughly the same as the portion being paraphrased
  2. The wording must be different
  3. The syntax must be different

As to knowing when to use one tactic as opposed to another, keep in mind that quoting should be used when the exact wording of the source is important: the wording is striking and could not have better expressed the idea, or the wording itself is what is being examined.

Paraphrasing, like quoting, is for when you want to zero in on a particular statement within a work. When the exact wording of that statement is not necessary to further your argument, go ahead and paraphrase. Paraphrasing, by the way, is impressive to readers because it shows the author has given some thought to what the source has said and that the author has "processed" those words in a particular way. A lot of people can commit material to rote memorization and quote it but may not necessarily be able to explain what that material means.

Summarizing should be used when providing the audience with the "gist" of a work. Obviously, you do not have time to read off works in their entirety to edify your audiencesif they wish to read the work in full, that's why they've been given references in the Works Cited page. Audiences will, however, need enough material to understand the overall picture the work is painting. It is often useful to summarize articles, books and other works as you bring them up—but only if knowing what this entire work is about is somehow essential to your argument. According to some, summary shows the writer's fullest comprehension of a work and so is the most "desired."

See the OWL Purdue discussion of summary, paraphrase and quotation.

Who Said It


Not terribly much needs to be said about this, except perhaps that ideas in academia are regarded as intellectual property, so what idea is to be put with whom is deemed a matter of very high importance. (If you want the truth of it, being able to put idea with the person credited with thinking it is considered something of a cardinal virtue in academia.) As for you, the writer, putting the right person to the right statement and idea shows that you handle material with a scholar's care. It's always good for your ethos.

How It Was Said


This section deals with what we call "verbs of attribution" or "signal verbs" (Graff and Birkenstein). A rhetorical rule of thumb is that you should always put other people's discourse into some frame. Many books and other material on this subject mention that you should not have a "hanging" quotation without any anchoring to your text. Well, you don't want any "hanging" summaries or paraphrases, either. What Graff and Birkenstein say here about quotations may be equally applied to summaries and paraphrases: "Finding relevant quotations is only part of your job; you also need to present them in a way that makes their relevance and meaning clear to your readers. Since quotations do not speak for themselves, you need to build a frame around them in which you do that speaking for them" (41).

So how do you put others' discourse into some frame? At the very least, you write the three basic elements we've been considering together: WHO SAID IT + VERB OF ATTRIBUTION (HOW IT WAS SAID), followed by the SUMMARY, PARAPHRASE or QUOTATION (WHAT WAS SAID).

Example: Guildenstern implores, "Good my lord, put your discourse into some frame and start not so wildly from my affair."

Hamlet famously advised a troupe of actors to "suit the action to the word, the word to the action." Similarly, you want to suit the verb of attribution to the source statement, and the source statement to the verb of attribution.

Verbs of Attribution

MLA Documentation Style


As this is an English class, we'll be using the Modern Language Association's documentation style for all papers. Numerous sources on how to do this formatting properly are available both in the university's Writing Center and online. Here is a link to a sample paper with comments from the OWL (Online Writing Lab) Purdue website.

Sample Paper in MLA Style

*Ancient rhetoricians argued that one way for students to learn to become effective orators was through imitatio, or imitation, of the speeches which had formerly proved effective in similar situations. I take it as almost axiomatic that people learn by example as well as practice, and that is no less true in the realm of learning to write for certain situations.

Sources Consulted

Bahktin, Mikhail M. Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. Trans. Vern W. McGee. Eds. Michael Holquist and Caryl Emerson. Austin: U of Texas P, 1986.

Bawarshi, Anis. "The Genre Function." College English. 62.3 (2000): 335-360. JSTOR.

Graff, Gerald and Cathy Birkenstein. "They Say/I Say": The Moves That Matter in Persuasive Writing. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2007.

Halliday, M. A. K. An Introduction to Functional Grammar. 3rd Edition. London: Hodder Arnold, 2004.

Swales, John. Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Settings. London: Oxford UP, 1990.