Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Logical and Orderly Presentation, Entry 2.

The logical and orderly presentation of ideas
(see page 32 of the APA manual for some details)
(Sorry, blogger elimiated the indentation formatting on the outline...hum...)
Scholarly writing needs to be logical and ordered. You must set down your ideas in an understandable, comprehensible order so that your reader can follow your logic and reasoning and understand the points made. In a sense, your writing should act to “hold your reader’s hand” in regards to explanation.

For those of you who have heard me speak on this topic, you know what’s coming next: that the key to a logical and orderly presentation of ideas is an outline. Whenever I ask groups of students how many of them write an outline before writing a paper and how many just jump right into the writing, fewer than 10% report that they first write an outline. Now, it is possible to get away without writing an outline if you are an organized, skilled and sophisticated writer who can hold the entire organization of the paper in your head. This probably accounts for between 10% and 20% of all writers (partly an educated guess, partly based on some research). This is sort of opposite of the proportion of real students in the real world.

When you outline, you force yourself to think about the organization of the paper in advance of writing it. Outlines, as long as you stick to them, help guide your writing into a logical whole. Does this mean that outlines cannot change once you have written them? Of course not! Sometimes additional research or understanding opens up a new area to explore or you find that the order you first thought was logical can be improved.

How to outline? For a scholarly, academic paper, you start with three sections: Introduction, Body and Conclusion. The introduction can be a simple, narrative listing of all the main points you will address in a paper or it can be provision of data or evidence to show the extent of the problem and why the reader should care about the problem or issue (sort of convincing the reader that this is a worthy topic to study and learn). For writers who are unsure of how to structure the intro, I suggest the former, and here is an example:

Several members of my family influenced my decision to study social work. My mother and my grandparents were affected by two social issues: poverty and mental illness. My grandparents’ poverty and my mother’s chronic depression left a lasting impression on me. As a result, I developed a determination to study, and become a member of, the helping professions.

Another example of an intro?

Depression is a social problem that directly affects 1.3 million people in the United States each year (Mental Health Commission, 2000) and indirectly affects millions more (National Institute of Health Statistics, 2001). In this paper I will describe the extent of these direct and indirect effects, as well as give some information regarding definitions of depression, and current theories as to cause. I will conclude with a brief description of one, effective intervention for depression, the Accelerated Cognitive-Behavioral Counseling Program (ACBCP), and practice implications (Smith & Jones, 2003).
[JT’s note- I made these facts up].

OK, some more details: Outline Example:
The main point of an outline is to get your ideas in a logical order, an order in which one idea flows into the next in a way that makes sense. Sometime the logic of the order has to do with the actual assignment. Other times, it has to do with what YOU want to emphasize OR the information you uncover in your research. Outlines are fluid- they will change over time, but act as a guideline to you as you write, re-write and edit your paper.

The very first step should be developing your main theme or main idea of the paper. Everything else flows from your main theme. Examples of a main theme for a paper might be:
“I will discuss the problem of social isolation in the elderly, giving a variety of definitions of the problem, as well as causes of it.”
“In this paper I will define and describe child medical neglect. I will discuss its consequences to children, families and communities, as well as its causes.”
“I will define and describe teen pregnancy from the critical perspective and from a statistical viewpoint. I will explain its causes, consequences and ethical implications.”

The bare bones of an outline involve main points, sub-points and details. Main points represent the main themes of your paper. The sub-themes support the main points, and under them come definitions, details and evidence.

I. Introduction: “Tell the reader what you are going to tell her.”
a. Main theme statement
b. Introduce sub-theme 1 (or “one way I will address the main theme’)
c. Sub-theme 2 …ditto to above…
d. Sub-theme 3… and so on, depends on how many sub-themes you have

II. Body of the paper (most of the points will go here): “Tell the reader” or give the evidence.
a. Sub-theme 1: (the order here depends on WHAT you decide is the right order, based on the assignment, your ideas, and the evidence.)
i. Definition or explanation
ii. Presentation of evidence
iii. Details, examples
b. Sub-theme 2:
i. Definition or explanation
ii. Presentation of evidence
iii. Details, examples
c. Sub-theme 2:
i. Definition or explanation
ii. Presentation of evidence
iii. Details, examples and so on….

III. Conclusion: “Tell the reader what you told her and what it all means.”
a. Analysis or summary of the evidence presented (without restating all of it)
b. What does this all mean?
c. Your concluding thoughts.

Next up: Accuracy and Precision in Language (now with typo’s!)
Keep writing!


  1. what about the fact that in scholarly papers, it is not appropriate to use "I"?

    as in, what's another way to say "in this paper, I will discuss these three things" without saying "I"?

  2. Well, it is appropriate to use I , me and my in scholarly papers. I encourage my students to do it all time time. Does that mean that all professors encourage the use of I? No. Some believe, like you did, that I is informal. However, I often find the same folks want you to write in "the active voice" which is pretty hard to do when you cannot use I. So, my bottom line advice: you need to do what your prof wants you to do, all the while knowing that I, me and my are fine! And you can tell them abut this blog if you are so bold!