Testing Time Is Coming; I Can Help You Get Ready!

The new year signals in many places the approach of standardized exams. Whether required by individual states or demanded by colleges for admission, such tests as the GRE, SAT, ACT, and STAAR, despite being decried by educators at great length and across many years, do much to determine the academic fates of students at many, if not most, levels of instruction. Consequently, doing well on such tests is a matter of some importance for students, parents, and schools. And I can help prepare students to do well on them.

I’ve worked to write tests not only for my own students, but as a contractor generating content for standardized exams and as a private tutor helping students get ready for their own exam experiences. I’ve talked about it before (here, here, here, and here), and it remains true: whether you’re an educator needing new content, a parent concerned for their child’s performance, or a student looking to get some additional practice in, I have materials for you.

The assessment example below comes out to 114 words at a ninth-grade reading level. As with the earlier examples noted above, formatting is adapted to suit the medium.


Read the following passage and use the information in it to identify the most accurate answer to each of the questions below.

1One area in which modern Arthuriana deviates from the traditional is in conflating the important swords of the text. 2That is, modern Arthuriana moves away from its sources in that it merge swords together in the narrative. 3The most prominent example is Excalibur. 4Modern tellings of the Arthurian legend equate it with the Sword in the Stone, the sword that Arthur draws out to confirm his kingship. 5In Malory, however, the Sword in the Stone is placed by Merlin as part of his plot to see Arthur enthroned. 6Excalibur, by contrast, is given Arthur by the Lady of the Lake. 7It is accompanied by a scabbard of greater value—but that is another story.

1.
In sentence 1, “deviates” is what part of speech?
A. Adjective.
B. Adverb.
C. Noun.
D. Verb.

2.
In sentence 1, “deviates” carries what meaning?
A. Moves against.
B. Moves away from.
C. Moves toward.
D. None of the above.

3.
Sentence 2 provides what kind of context clue about the meaning of “deviates?”
A. Antonym.
B. Example.
C. Synonym.
D. None of the above.

4.
In sentence 1, “conflating” is what part of speech?
A. Adjective.
B. Adverb.
C. Noun.
D. Verb.

5.
In sentence 1, “conflating” carries what meaning?
A. Eating.
B. Gathering.
C. Mixing.
D. None of the above.

6.
Sentence 2 provides what kind of context clue about the meaning of “conflating?”
A. Antonym.
B. Example.
C. Synonym.
D. None of the above.

7.
In sentence 5, “enthroned” is what part of speech?
A. Adjective.
B. Adverb.
C. Noun.
D. Verb.

8.
In sentence 5, “enthroned” carries what meaning?
A. Put into a box.
B. Put into clothing.
C. Put into power.
D. None of the above.

9.
Sentence 4 provides what kind of context clue about the meaning of “enthroned?”
A. Antonym.
B. Example.
C. Synonym.
D. None of the above.

10.
How does sentence 2 relate to sentence 1?
A. Addition.
B. Comparison / Contrast.
C. Illustration / Exemplification.
D. None of the above.

11.
How does sentence 3 relate to sentence 2?
A. Addition.
B. Comparison / Contrast.
C. Illustration / Exemplification.
D. None of the above.

12.
How does sentence 4 relate to sentence 3?
A. Addition.
B. Comparison / Contrast.
C. Illustration / Exemplification.
D. None of the above.

13.
How does sentence 5 relate to sentence 4?
A. Addition.
B. Comparison / Contrast.
C. Illustration / Exemplification.
D. None of the above.

14.
How does sentence 6 relate to sentence 5?
A. Addition.
B. Comparison / Contrast.
C. Illustration / Exemplification.
D. None of the above.

15.
How does sentence 7 relate to sentence 6?
A. Addition.
B. Comparison / Contrast.
C. Illustration / Exemplification.
D. None of the above.

16.
The main idea of the paragraph is in which sentence?
A. 2.
B. 4.
C. 6.
D. None of the above.

17.
There is an error in sentence 2. At which word does it appear?
A. Merge.
B. Narrative.
C. Sources.
D. Swords.

Answers: 1, D; 2, B; 3, C; 4, D; 5, C; 6, C; 7, D; 8, C; 9, C; 10, C; 11, C; 12, A; 13, B; 14, B; 15, A; 16, A; 17, A


If you need custom materials for your students, or you are looking to design tests for use now and in the future, I’m happy to help. Do me a favor, take thirty seconds, and fill out the form below. I’ll respond as quickly as I can, and we can discuss how I can generate to-order content for you!

Or just help me start the year in a better place!

From the Archives Again: Another Assessment Practice

I still have samples of assessment work I developed for a tutorial client entering public schooling from private some years back, following those I noted here, here, and here. Even though many students are on their winter break and thoughts of school may be far from their minds, such concerns still loom. After all, the spring is when the major standardized tests are administered in my part of the world, and there are college entrance exams at intervals throughout the year.

The example below comes out to 85 words at a ninth-grade reading level. The usual adaptations to suit the medium apply.


Read the following passage and use the information in it to identify the most accurate answer to each of the questions below.

1Illegitimate origin factors heavily into Arthurian legend. 2There are a lot of characters whose parents are not married when they are conceived. 3Arthur himself is of illegitimate origin; his parents, Uther and Igrayne, marry after Igrayne’s first husband is killed in war against Uther. 4Arthur begets two illegitimate children, Mordred and Borre. 5The latter is of little consequence, but the former ends up overthrowing Camelot. 6And the knight who does best of all, Galahad, is the bastard son produced when Elaine drugs and violates Lancelot.

1.
In sentence 1, the word “illegitimate” is what part of speech?
A. Adjective.
B. Adverb.
C. Noun.
D. Pronoun.

2.
In sentence 1, the word “illegitimate” means which of the following?
A. Understudied.
B. Uninspired.
C. Unsuccessful.
D. None of the above.

3.
Sentence 2 provides what kind of context clue for the meaning of “illegitimate?”
A. Antonym.
B. Example.
C. Synonym.
D. None of the above.

4.
The relationship of sentence 2 to sentence 1 is one of which of the following?
A. Addition.
B. Comparison / contrast.
C. Illustration / exemplification.
D. None of the above.

5.
The relationship of sentence 3 to sentence 2 is one of which of the following?
A. Addition.
B. Comparison / contrast.
C. Illustration / exemplification.
D. None of the above.

6.
The relationship of sentence 4 to sentence 3 is one of which of the following?
A. Addition.
B. Comparison / contrast.
C. Illustration / exemplification.
D. None of the above.

7.
The relationship of sentence 5 to sentence 4 is one of which of the following?
A. Addition.
B. Comparison / contrast.
C. Illustration / exemplification.
D. None of the above.

8.
The relationship of sentence 6 to sentence 5 is one of which of the following?
A. Addition.
B. Comparison / contrast.
C. Illustration / exemplification.
D. None of the above.

9.
The main idea of the passage appears in which sentence?
A. 2.
B. 4.
C. 6.
D. None of these.

Answers: 1, A; 2, D; 3, A; 4, A; 5, C; 6, A; 7, C; 8, A; 9, D


Think you or someone you know might benefit from more practice with this kind of thing? Maybe you or they need some coaching through this kind of exercise? Worry not; I am happy to help! Take a few seconds, fill out the form below, and see what all we can do together!

It’s not too late to send me a holiday gift, either!

Not from the Archives: An Assessment Sample

I have remarked once or twice on having drafted assessment practices for a younger tutee who needed to get acclimated to testing culture. I may have remarked, as well, that a fair bit of the freelance work I’ve done has taken the form of writing assessment materials. In one instance, I was hired by a college to help write an end-of-course exam that every student would be expected to take. In several others, I drafted rafts of 180 or more multiple-choice questions, as well as 60 or more short-answer and 20 or more essay questions, focused on recalling and interpreting novels and other longer works. It’s not hard work, though it takes some doing.

That work is proprietary, though, and the passages that underlie the earlier assessment examples were drafted with assessment practice in mind. It occurs to me that an example taken “from the wild” might be in order–and, since I do occasionally write some things that I do not initially intend to put to that purpose (for whatever value my intent might have), using one as such an example suggests itself. Thus, the following.


Read “Hymn against the Stupid God 192.” Use that text to answer the following questions, selecting the best or most accurate response from among those provided.

1.
Which of the following forms does “Hymn against the Stupid God 192” take?
A. Clerihew.
B. Roundel.
C. Sonnet.
D. Villanelle.

2.
Which of the following occurs most frequently in “Hymn against the Stupid God 192?”
A. Couplet.
B. Triplet.
C. Quatrain.
D. Quintain.

3.
Line 4 of “Hymn against the Stupid God 192” offers an example of which of the following?
A. Ekphrasis.
B. End-stop.
C. Enjambment.
D. Euphemism.

4.
Which of the following does the narrator of “Hymn against the Stupid God 192” seek to resist?
A. Business.
B. Empathy.
C. Industry.
D. Laziness.

5.
With which of the following does “Hymn against the Stupid God 192” conclude?
A. Couplet.
B. Triplet.
C. Quatrain.
D. Quintain.

Answers: 1, C; 2, B; 3, C; 4, D; 5, A


Maybe you or someone you know could use some help with this kind of thing. Maybe you’re in an instructional position and would like to outsource some assignment development. I’m happy to work with you, either way. Just fill out the contact form below, and we can get started!

Of course, you could send a holiday gift instead or in addition!

Still Another Assessment Practice

In the past couple of weeks, I have provided examples (here and here) of the work I have done to draft assessment materials, pulling from what I produced to help a private client learn how to navigate the standardized tests that have marked so much schooling over the past decades. (Yes, decades. I’ve lived them.) I know there’s still a lot of call for this kind of thing, so I offer yet another example below.

The example below comes out to 91 words at a ninth-grade reading level. The usual adaptations to suit the medium apply.


Read the following passage and use the information in it to identify the most accurate answer to each of the questions below.

1Peppermint has a eupeptic effect. 2As such, it helps with upset stomachs and poor digestion. 3Also, peppermint has an analgesic effect. 4This is shown by its ability to ease headaches and reduce pain from various abdominal issues. 5Additionally, peppermint has an expectorant effect, meaning that it aids in loosening phlegm and mucus (stuff in congested lungs and stuffy noses) so that they can be gotten out of the body. 6And peppermint has antibacterial and antiviral qualities, as well. 7All of these are in addition to the flavor, which many people enjoy.

1.
In sentence 1, “eupeptic” is which part of speech?
A. Adjective.
B. Adverb.
C. Noun.
D. Verb.

2.
In sentence 1, “eupeptic” means
A. Fancy-teasing.
B. Palate-pleasing.
C. Stomach-easing.
D. None of the above.

3.
What kind of context clue does sentence 2 provide for the meaning of “eupeptic?”
A. Antonym.
B. Example.
C. Synonym.
D. None of the above.

4.
In sentence 5, “expectorant” is what part of speech?
A. Adjective.
B. Adverb.
C. Noun.
D. Verb.

5.
In sentence 5, “expectorant” means
A. Hitting.
B. Quitting.
C. Spitting.
D. None of the above.

6.
What kind of context clue does sentence 5 provide for the meaning of “expectorant?”
A. Antonym.
B. Example.
C. Synonym.
D. None of the above.

7.
An inference to be taken from the paragraph is that
A. All of these are in addition to the flavor, which many people enjoy.
B. Peppermint has a eupeptic effect.
C. Peppermint has a negative effect.
D. Peppermint has a number of uses.

Answers: 1, A; 2, C; 3, B; 4, A; 5, C; 6, C; 7, D.


As previously, I am happy to draft more of these to suit people’s needs. If you have such a need–or if you need something else written to order–let me know below, and we’ll talk about how I can meet it for you!

Or you could simply send some money my way…

Another from the Archives: More Assessment Practice

Last week, I noted having done some assessment-practice work with a (fortunate) client who had lived outside the testing culture prevalent in the United States and was in need of adaptation to it. (See here for details.) The example I gave then isn’t the only one I have handy, fortunately, and since it seemed to go over relatively well, I figured I’d give another.

Accordingly, below, I give another of the exercises I put to that most fortunate client. The passage runs approximately 190 words and tests out at a ninth-grade reading level. As before, it is adapted only lightly to suit the medium. The original was printed on letter-sized paper in grayscale, and working with a physical sheet is quite a bit different than working online, as all too many Texan students are finding out…


Read the passage below. For each of the questions that follow, select the correct or most accurate answer.

1The tabletop role-playing game can be defined as extemporaneous, collaborative, rules-assisted storytelling. 2What this means, in essence, is that a group of people get together to tell a story using a set of rules, making up what happens on the spot from the germ of a prepared idea that one of the people brings to the gathering. 3This is different from the online role-playing experience, in which players are confronted with computer-generated enemies to fight and puzzles to solve. 4Online role-playing games focus on combat, and because of the necessary limits of programming language and the finite capacity of computers, there is not much flexibility in the nature of the story. 5Certainly, players can choose different paths for their characters, but those choices are as narrowly defined as menus at fast-food restaurants. 6Tabletop role-playing games, however, are as flexible as the minds of the players, and can respond to more stimuli in more ways. 7Tabletop gamers can think of options that no others in the group would have considered, thereby taking the story in new directions. 8This has the effect of making tabletop gaming a richer, more immersive play experience.

1.
In sentence 1, “extemporaneous” is which part of speech?
A. Adjective
B. Adverb
C. Noun
D. Verb

2.
In sentence 1, “extemporaneous” means
A. Made in the moment
B. Made in the night
C. Made of former spouses
D. Made of holes

3.
In sentence 3, “This” refers to
A. A group of people
B. Online gaming
C. A set of rules
D. Tabletop gaming

4.
In sentence 4, “finite” means
A. With a beginning
B. With an end
C. Both A and B
D. None of the above

5.
Sentence 5 offers an example of
A. Analogy
B. Conceit
C. Metaphor
D. Simile

6.
In sentence 6, “however” serves to mark
A. Addition
B. Causation
C. Deviation
D. Negation

7.
One inference that can be taken from the paragraph is that
A. Nobody should play games
B. Online games are better than tabletop games
C. Tabletop games are better than online games
D. None of the above

(Answers: 1, A; 2, A; 3, D; 4, C; 5, D; 6, C; 7, C.)


If you or someone you know might benefit from some additional practice with this kind of thing, or you’re in an instructional position and would like to outsource some assignment development, I’m happy to help. Just fill out the contact form below, and we can get started!

Or if you just want to send some support my way, that’ll be good, too!

From the Archives: Assessment Practice

This webspace got its start in large part as a place to host instructional and other materials–a sort of online portfolio, really, as well as a resource for the various kinds work that I was doing at the time. I don’t do quite the same variety of tasks anymore that I did then, clearly, but I do still keep a hand in on a fair number of things. I still put out some literary and similar research from time to time, in addition to maintaining one or two longer-term projects. And I do still work in instructional capacities, whether as a tutor or as a writer of instructional materials.

Yep, this is what I’m talking about.
Photo by Andy Barbour on Pexels.com

The thing is, a lot of the instructional materials I’ve written have been contract work, sold to others and therefore not really something I can post as evidence or examples of my work. Fortunately, I do have some tutoring materials I developed for a client a few years back who was working to adapt to testing culture after having lived outside it. (I envy the client that.) As with previous posts of this sort (such as this, this, and this), there is some light adaptation to the present medium from previous incarnations.


For each of the questions below, select the best or most accurate answer from among those provided.

For questions 1 through 8, read the following passage:

1A good academic office has to do a number of things to qualify as “good.”  2The most important of them is to facilitate the work an academic must do. 3People who teach at colleges and universities are expected to design assignments and to assess them. 4Doing both requires space and access to resources; an office that provides such begins to mark itself off as a good one. 5Additionally, designing and assessing assignments requires privacy, the former because of information security, the latter because of legal obligations; good academic offices tend to be held by individuals, so they are able to offer solitude. 6The work of an academic does not inhere in making and marking assignments alone, however; professors must do more to generate new knowledge than to disseminate it. 7Through its many features, a good office will conduce to that end, making it easier for academics to conduct research and to get it ready to share with the world, in the classroom and elsewhere.

1.
In sentence 1, “academic” is which part of speech?
A. Adjective
B. Adverb
C. Noun
D. Verb

2.
In sentence 2, “to facilitate” means
A. To make easy
B. To make hard
C. To make silly
D. To make up

3.
In sentence 5, “solitude” means
A. Being alone
B. Being at work
C. Being awake
D. Being with people

4.
In sentence 6, “an academic” is
A. A business owner
B. A college professor
C. A high school student
D. A stadium janitor

5.
In sentence 7, the word “conduce” means
A. Follow after
B. Lead up
C. Pitch in
D. Strike out

6.
The sentence that expresses the main idea of the paragraph is sentence
A. 1
B. 2
C. 3
D. 4

7.
A sentence beginning with an overt transitional device is
A. 2
B. 3
C. 4
D. 5

8.
In sentence 6, “however” serves to mark
A. Addition
B. Causation
C. Deviation
D. Negation

(Answers: 1, A; 2, A; 3, A; 4, B; 5, B; 6, A; 7, D; 8, C.)


I know that a lot of people are concerned about navigating the kind of high-stakes testing that has become all too commonplace. I’m happy to draft practice materials and to work with people to learn how to address them well. If you’d like to avail yourself of such services, reach out via the contact form below!

If you’d simply like to send some support, that’d be appreciated, too!

Need Help Writing? Get Help Now!

Schools have started up again, and that means assignments are starting again, too. Even down into elementary school, students are being asked to write–and writing is hard. It takes work. It takes attention to detail. And it takes time to do well.

This is the kind of thing I can help you overcome…
Photo by Jessica Lewis Creative on Pexels.com

Classroom teachers do their best, of course, but with twenty to forty students in a room, there is only so much time they can give to any one student–and when there’s one or two acting out, it’s clear where the teachers’ attention will go. The quiet student who sits and tries to get things done gets left out–not because of anything they did or anything their teachers have done, but because there’s only so much time in the class, and there’re so many other things that teachers have to do.

That’s where I come in.

I’ve been writing for years, and I’ve taught writing in the classroom and in individual settings for almost as long. My students have ranged from middle- and high-schoolers through graduate students; my clients have ranged from high-schoolers through PhD candidates and established scholars. Each has seen a marked improvement in performance after working with me–and you and yours can have the same success!

I’d be thrilled to put my time and talents to work for you. Let me know what you need help writing, and we’ll talk about what we can do together!

A Rumination about Affective Reading

I comment in my most recent previous post about affective reading, noting as I have many times that I ought not to do it. It occurs to me that I’ve not really spent time with the idea outside my years-ago graduate coursework, not in any substantive way, and that a fair number of the people who read this blog (thank you!) may not know what “affective reading” is or why someone like me might have been trained away from it. Thus, the following, in which I offer a cursory discussion of those ideas; as with many things, others have treated the topic more intelligently than I have (ever had?) it in me to do, but I do what I can.

Looks like a good time to me…
Photo by Vincenzo Malagoli on Pexels.com

Now, again, this is entirely cursory and paraphrased from years of courses and readings, so it will necessarily gloss over and simplify matters; I can’t give a doctorate in a blog post. But my experience with the term “affect,” and how I’ve used it subsequently, has been something related to reader-response theory. In that theory, the meaning of a given text (and this can apply, really, to any artwork, but I talk about things in terms of text because it’s easier for me to do it that way) exists somewhere in the negotiation between the work as itself and the reaction of the reader to the work. That is, a text is not the words on the page, but the experience of the reader with the words on the page; if there is no reader, there is no text, even if there is a verifiable physical object to consider. It has no meaning unless the reader acts upon it to produce meaning, although it is also the case that the meaning the reader produces from the object is guided and directed by the object itself. I think a lot of people understand this at some level; most of the people I have known have run into readings they didn’t understand, and so those readings didn’t mean a damned thing to them. Certainly so much was true for students when I had them, and I’ll admit that I don’t get a lot out of watching dance; I don’t understand a lot about how dance conveys meaning, so I don’t know how to act upon the performances I see and have seen to make meaning from them.

(Please don’t take this to mean that I don’t like dance or don’t esteem its value. That I don’t understand a thing doesn’t mean I think it has no worth. The failure is mine, and one of many, not that of the medium.)

“Affect,” at least for me, becomes something of an emotional engagement with the text, a self-identification with the events described in the work. That is, it is the manifestation of affection for the characters and their situations, which moves from the meaning-making into over/investment in the emotional content of the work in which they exist. To use the repeated example from the Hobb reread, I find myself sympathizing with Fitz an awful damned lot; I end up feeling as I read as much as or more than I find myself examining and considering what I read.

So much is a problem insofar as attempts to plumb a text for meaning go. For one, reading with affect ends up making the reading more about me than about the text, and even if it is the case that the text does not exist as a conceptual thing without readerly interaction (and I do tend to follow a reader-response-informed theoretical approach, insofar as I have a theoretical approach–which may be part of why I never landed a “real” academic job), overreliance on the effect a work has on one reader inhibits the ability of others to use such a reading to glean their own knowledge and further their own understanding of the text. Too, sympathies constrain and restrict the ability to arrive at some understandings; it is harder to identify faults and label them as such amid some emotional engagements, and far too easy in others, which is not necessarily fair to the thing being examined or appropriate to the context of examination. So much is not to say that what is praiseworthy should not be praised and what is flaw should not be rebuked, but it is to say that it’s a lot easier to find the praiseworthy in what is liked and the blameworthy in what is disliked than the opposite, regardless of its actual presence or absence.

There’s also an issue I think is at work at deeper levels in the minds of teachers such as I have had and as I doubtlessly, in my own lesser fashion, have been. There is an apprehension in those who work in the academic humanities that their work is of no value; it is certainly said often enough and by enough voices to raise the concern. Long-standing practices associate emotional reactions with unserious things–and vice-versa. Consequently, emotional over/investment becomes something to be avoided; it becomes something unserious, and fields of study that already operate under the onus of perceived uselessness can ill afford additional associations with a lack of seriousness.

I have the sneaking suspicion that such associations and the admitted problems of reading with too much (any?) affect combine to move those who study the academic humanities from the love of the things that actually brought them to that study. I know that, for me, the idea of being a band director was one that emerged (at least in part) from a love of music and of playing as part of an ensemble; my shift to English studies emerged almost wholly from a love of reading and a desire to do more of it and be better at it. (I left off being a band director for other reasons, but there’s a difference between moving from and moving to, and it’s more than just a shift of preposition.) I also know that playing while I was trying to be a band director and reading while I was trying to be an English professor were…fraught; the adage about doing what you love so that you don’t ever work is wrong, and its prevalence leads to feelings of inadequacy and insufficiency. Or it did for me, at least.

Anyway, for me, reading with affect happens. And I’m not trying to work in the academic humanities anymore…

I’d love to talk about what writing I can do for you! Please reach out below!

I’d also love to keep enjoying your patronage!

Some Notes about Organization

As with a couple of previous posts (here and here), the present post is lightly adapted from teaching materials I’d posted online back when I still had students. I offer it here in the hopes that some will find it useful.

The writing that typically gets labeled as “argumentative” in classrooms serves to present a central idea–a thesis–and to support that idea through the provision of explained evidence. The way in which the evidence is provided can serve to ease its acceptance by readers, helping them to understand what is being given to them and ordering it such that the individual effect of each piece of evidence is amplified. At the paragraph and whole-paper levels, then, what order materials appear matters–as does the way in which the paper moves among those materials. What follows offers some discussion of such concerns.

To ease navigation, the following:

Organization matters, in writing as in any other task.
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Paragraph Organization

Paragraphs are the basic organizational units of prose writing (although they are typically composite constructions), presenting and supporting ideas that further the governing concept of the piece of writing being done. In the context of an academic essay, paragraphs present ideas that inform the thesis, as well as supporting information and explanation for it. This is true whether the paragraph is introductory, in the body, or concluding.

Introductory paragraphs, as the name implies, serve to lead the reader into the essay. While longer pieces can–and should and do–have multiple-paragraph introductions, the kinds of essays asked of first-year college writing typically will not; they will usually be of such a length as will only admit of one such paragraph. One useful model for such paragraphs is

  • The Hook
  • Text
  • The Thesis
  • Essay Map

The hook is a statement or series of statements intended to command reader attention–to begin the pathos appeal necessary for effective persuasion and argument. It is, admittedly, optional; some situations create the attention and appeal through their nature. But for most argumentation, there has to be some reason for readers to keep reading, and the hook offers that initial reason. Techniques for effectively developing attention vary; which are deployed say much about the presumed audience of a piece, as well as about its expected context of use.

The text that follows the hook will tend to lead towards the central point of the paper, and it will generally do so by offering context for disucssion. That is, it will clarify the topic being treated and the angle of approach to that topic (perhaps giving a review of the most recent extant literature on the topic and/or outlining in summary form a tertiary source that informs the approach). In effect, it bridges the gap between the hook and what follows, helping readers position themselves to make sense of what is to come.

The thesis is as it is in other discussions. It is the central idea of the paper, the point of it, the thing to which the rest of the work is servant and support. Traditionally, it appears at or near the end of the introduction, where it can be seen easily and serve as a guide for the reading (and writing!) to come.

The essay map is an optional inclusion in a shorter essay such as first-year writing classes will usually request. It is what the name suggests: a map of the essay to come. That is, it lays out the major argumentative points in the order that they are made in the paper. Done well, it eases reading; readers know what to expect and when, and they can therefore follow the writing more easily. Done poorly, it undermines ethos; deviating from the map is, in effect, lying to the reader, and a writer who lies once may well do so again.

Body paragraphs serve to provide the information that supports the thesis, as well as to explain that information such that readers can make sense of it. (They are the focus of the section on paper organization, below.) They will constitute the bulk of the paper–not a simple majority, but an overwhelming proportion. They will also need to strike a balance between enough heft to be credible and enough brevity to be scannable–and how long they are therefore will vary by topic, thesis, and intended audience.

One useful model for such paragraphs is

  • Transition into the
  • Main Idea
  • Evidence Supporting the Main Idea
  • Explanation of How the Evidence Supports the Main Idea
  • Explanation of How the Main Idea Supports the Thesis

That is, a body paragraph will usefully open by indicating its relationship to what precedes it (about which more below). It will then do well to present its own main idea, followed by evidence that supports it informationally tagged. Something like “For example,” or “Other researchers have commented to that effect” might work. The evidence will need to be explained, however; it does not stand on its own, but must be acted upon to be of any value. And its relevance to the greater topic of the paper must be demonstrated; readers should not be asked to guess at it.

Concluding paragraphs, as the name implies, serve to lead the reader out of the essay. A commonplace method for drafting them is to return to the device of the hook–although not all such devices lend themselves to such treatment. Another, one that works far better in speech than in print (for shorter works), is to reiterate the argumentative structure. Still another, and one that works well in speech and in print, is to trace implications forward, to articulate the “so what?” that any work of research produces. How the reader can use the thesis, now that it has been validated by the paper, merits consideration–and it offers a good way to get the reader back into the wider world.

Return to top.

Paper Organization

How the paragraphs in the body of the essay are laid out can serve to make the reader’s task of understanding easier, as well as to align to audience expectations and to enhance the effects of the information presented within them. Conversely, the order can serve to confuse the reader, leading from one idea to another in no pattern or one that does not make sense. Part of eliminating that confusion derives from appropriate use of transitions, as discussed below, but more of it comes from the effective ordering of paragraphs within the essay.

There are a number of orders in which paragraphs, within the body and extending outside it, can array themselves. Some of the more notable are

  • Chronological
  • Emphatic
  • IMRaD
  • Problem/Solution

There are, others, as well, the discussion of which exceeds what may be given here.

Chronological order is exactly what it sounds like; it orders points of argument by their occurrence in time. What happens first gets discussed first; second, second; and so on. It has the advantage of being easy to understand; it has the disadvantages of being somewhat flat and of not necessarily foregrounding what is best to foreground.

It also has a useful variant: reverse chronological order. It, too, is what it sounds like; it begins at the end and works back to the beginning. Its chief utility is in causal work, since cause must precede effect.

Emphatic order is the traditional rhetorical order that is taught in schools. It puts the weakest point of argument first; each successive point is stronger, until the last is the strongest. (Relative strength is usually determined by the amount of evidence available to support a point. Some exceptions will apply, but they exceed the scope of this discussion.) It has the advantages of being conventional and of promoting excellent forward momentum. It has the disadvantage of demanding that the readership remain reading for the whole paper–and not all readers will.

As such, a variant of the traditional rhetorical order is available: journalistic or executive summary order. It works in reverse of the traditional order, putting the strongest point first so that it is taken in and understood. The advantage is clear: readers get the strongest point. Those who will remain, however, may feel let down, and negotiating transitions among points can be a challenge.

Another variant, which may be called mixed emphatic order, can be applied to slightly longer papers. In it, the second-strongest point is presented first, then the weakest, and following points grow successively stronger, until the strongest is presented last. Readers who have to leave early still get a solid point; those who remain are rewarded with forward momentum and the traditionally satisfying conclusion. But the order does demand a longer paper; three points will not sustain it, and five will only barely do so.

IMRaD order is common in social and other sciences. In moving through an introduction (that lays out the topic, recent literature treating it, the gaps in that literature, and the current project), methodology (how the project seeks to do its work), results (what the methods produced), and discussion (what the results mean and what implications they have), the IMRaD model is easy to understand and applies well to reports of experiments and other empirical research. Not all interpretive work applies to such research, however, so it is not universally applicable.

Problem/Solution order is also a common pattern. Papers written in it will establish what problem is to be addressed, why it is a problem, and for whom it is a problem. Afterwards, they will address what solution is best for that group to pursue or have pursued by others, articulating why that solution is best (likely incorporating alternatives and noting why they do not work as well as might be hoped). Like IMRaD and chronology, it is easily understood, but, as with IMRaD, problem/solution patterns do not work for all inquiries.

Always, the purpose being addressed and the audience with whom it is addressed must be kept in mind. They should determine what pattern should be deployed, since it is their needs that must be met for effective argument.

Return to top.

It can be fun and easy to move from one thing to the next.
Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh on Pexels.com

Transitions

Moving from one point to another, and even from one sentence to another, can be jarring for readers. They are asked by the act of reading a new thing to take in and process a new idea, and if they are not moved smoothly between them, they may not be able to folow–or to follow well. It is therefore important to clearly indicate how what happens in the text’s now relates to what it follows–and that indication comes about through effective use of transitional devices.

Such devices need not be complicated; indeed, many follow predictable patterns or can be made to do so. Some examples include

  • Additive (indicating that a new point is added on, more useful as something to mix into other patterns than as a primary pattern in itself): One, Another, Yet another, Still another, A final; One, A further, Yet a further, Still a further, A final; One, An additional, etc.; Also; Too; In addition; Moreover
  • Chronological: First, Next, Then, After, Last; First, Second, Third, etc.; explicit time/date indications
  • Spatial (useful more within descriptive paragraphs than as a primary organizing principle for a paper): Top to bottom, left to right / right to left, front to back, outside in / inside out, best-side to beast-side / east to west, north to south
  • Causal: Thus, Hence, Therefore, As a result, Consequently, Ergo, So
  • Contrastive (useful to introduce counter-argument and rebuttal, as well as to argue against ideas or to set up an argument): But, Yet, Rather, Instead, Divergently, In contrast, However
  • Emphatic: One, A stronger, A yet stronger, A still stronger, Strongest; One, More important, Yet more important, Still more important, Most important; One, A better, A yet better, A still better, Best

Others are available, of course, and it is important to keep in mind that, although pattern-building is useful, over-reliance on any one pattern of transition will bore the reader. Readerly boredom is unhelpful; break the pattern to emphasize what needs emphasis, but keep it to ease the reader along. The juxtaposition of the two could be quite productive, indeed.

Return to top.

I’d be happy to put my talents to work for you; let me know what all you need written, and we’ll talk!

Some Notes about the Written Environment

As with some earlier comments, what follows is lightly adapted from materials I’d generated for teaching. The institution obliged then-current APA standards, which I retain here. I continue to hope people will find it useful…

The environment in which written communication exists is a complex one, consisting of many parts that connect with one another in myriad ways. No single model can encompass all of the complexities—at least, not and remain a useful model—so that which appears below is necessarily incomplete. It does, however, usefully highlight a number of points that bear in on the kind of writing students in first-year composition classes—and others—are asked to do.

What follows lays out a simple, initial model before proceeding through an early complication thereof and into still more complexity. Reference information concludes.

True even for this.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A Simple Model

At its simplest, the environment of written communication can be conceived of as containing three elements:

  • Writer
  • Text
  • Reader

That is, there are the writer, the thing written, and the recipient of what is written. It is a sensible model, one easily accessible, and one that fits the dominant motif of triplets that seems to pervade rhetorical study. It is only a starting point, however—and no advancement comes to those who remain at the beginning.

Return to top

A First Complication

Experience teaches that matters are not so simple as they might initially appear—and one of the early complications is that things inevitable get in the way. One term that might usefully apply to such things is interference, literally “that carried in amidst” or what intrudes from outside to inhibit or hinder the easy development, transmission, and receipt of the written message.

Interference can apply at all points of juncture. That is, it can come into play wherever any of the parts of the environment of written communication touch. In that sense, it is like friction, in which all mechanical actions lose energy—and interference, indeed, interferes with the message coming to be, getting where it needs to go, and being understood.

The writing model, with the complication of interference introduced, then becomes:

  • Interference
  • Writer
  • Interference
  • Text
  • Interference
  • Reader

While it might seem strange to note interference before the writer, it is often the case that things get in the way before the writer begins to write. Perhaps the writer is hungry or thirsty, tired, or subject to other physical demands. Perhaps the writer is instead distracted by family concerns or other work that needs to be done. Perhaps the writer is experiencing the commonplace of writer’s block, daunted by what writing lore calls “the tyranny of the blank page.”

The last begins to be something that appears between the writer and the text, as well. And there are other such interfering concerns to find. Perhaps the writer seeks to type out a paper, but the keyboard does not work—or a cat walks across it or even sleeps upon it. Perhaps the pen to be used is out of ink, or the pencil’s lead breaks. Perhaps the calligraphy brush sheds its hair, or the paper tears. A cup of coffee overturned certainly keeps writing from occurring as might be desired.

Or perhaps the writer needs to find some particular word, but cannot recall it. Perhaps a turn of phrase reads awkwardly, and staring at it to figure out how it might be fixed stalls the fixture of words to the page. Or some bit of knowledge needs finding—and it eludes or else leads to the research rapture described so convincingly by Pigeon (2013). Or any number of other things could intrude between the writer and the text, no less than in between the world and the writer.

Some of the writer’s concerns will apply to the reader, too. Readers are afflicted by hunger and thirst and lust and fatigue; they are enmeshed in concerns of family and work; they are distracted by other things. Perhaps they lack contextual knowledge to make sense of what is written, whether in being unfamiliar with the intellectual underpinnings of what is written or in not knowing what words are used—and in trying to find out, they fall into their own instantiations of research rapture. Or, again, any number of other things can intrude, coming between the text and the reader.

Return to top

More Complexity

Another set of lecture notes forecasts one of the additional complications that can intrude into a model of written communication: varying levels of readership. There are other such concerns, as well, expanding on the writer, the text, and the readership—about which more below.

Such complexity. Much wow.
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

A More Complicated Writer

Clearly, without a writer, there will be no text, and so no reader, because nothing to read. Yet the writer is not a unitary entity. As other lecture notes suggest, the writer exists within a network or framework sketched out by demographic factors—and pursuing those leads to an even more complex model of written communication than can be reasonably presented here. But what can be presented here are concerns borrowed from literary study (itself a refinement and extension of writing study, to be sure), namely those of the authorial personal and the narrator.

The authorial persona is that set of attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors adopted by the writer for the purposes of undertaking the act of writing. The concept emerges from that of performativity, the idea that people take on roles as if acting when doing the various things they do, adapting or attempting to adapt to social situations in conscious or subconscious hopes of navigating them successfully. Plainly, people act differently with different sets of people in different circumstances—and all of those acts are roles played, rather than the real person playing them.

Writing is no different. When they set out to write, writers approach the task with notions about what writing is and what writers are and do, and those notions necessarily constrain them in some ways and focus their attentions in others. What those constraints and foci are depend upon the writer’s background and experience, certainly, and they act as a particular lens or filter through which the writer writes. That they come between the writer and the text may make them appear to be interference, but in that they enable to production of a coherent, cohesive work of writing, they are facilitative rather than interfering.

The narrator is, to make things simple, the voice through which the words are spoken. It is the specific perspective through which the text and its information are presented, and it will emerge from the narrative persona and its consideration of audiences, materials, and circumstances. Discussions of narration typically focus on personal perspective—that is, is the narration first person, giving an embedded account of events, or is it third person, giving a dissociated account—limitation—how much the narrator knows, and how much the narrator shows—and reliability—how much the narrator can be trusted. Scholarly writing typically seeks to deploy a mildly limited reliable narrator—it says what it knows and what it does not know, and it tries to convey its ethos.

Whether scholarly writing adopts first or third person, however, depends on the discipline and purpose. Some fields—typically those in “hard” sciences and areas that emulate them—strive for objectivity and so draft their prose in third person. Others, chiefly among the humanities, work with personal concerns in any event, and they acknowledge that much of their work comes from direct experience—so they make use of first-person perspectives.

One Textual Complexity of Many

Other lecture notes make mention of paratextual concerns. That is, they note, however briefly, that the situation of words conveys meaning no less certainly than do the words themselves. Any number of such concerns can receive attention, and for sound reasons (McLuhan, 1964). A few are likely to attract attention for first-year writers.

One such is medium, the venue through which the text is presented. Whether a text is physical or digital, whether it is a book or magazine, a newspaper or a journal, a blog or a database article, matters in terms of how it will present its ethos—as well as in other ways that can be meaningfully explored elsewhere.

Another is the quality of the page. Whether the text is physical or digital, the quality of the page on which it appears influences its ethos—as well as the access readers have to it. Both impact how its meaning will be received.

Similarly determinative of access are the characteristics of the type. Size, color, font, and other such formatting concerns call attention and dissuade it, bespeak importance and its lack, and even allow those who have visual learning differences such as dyslexia greater or lesser access to the words.

Other visual features such as pictures, diagrams, charts, and graphs also influence what meanings emerge from the text and for whom they do. Their presence or absence, as well as their quality if present, should be considered in addition to the overt information presented.

Complicated Readership

Other lecture notes also, following Johnson-Sheehan (2014), make mention of a four-fold readership: gatekeeper, primary, secondary, and tertiary. The first of these, gatekeepers, introduces several points of complication—in addition to each level of reader imposing its own, as noted above.

Any number of gatekeepers can come between the text and its expected primary and secondary readers, as well as the uncountable tertiary readers that could take a look at the text. One such might be a translator, who work to bring the text from its original language into a target language—and the translator’s background will influence what words and phrases are used to render what, changing the words presented and therefore the text as a whole. Also, the translator will possibly have advisors, whose advice might well also change the words given.

Another gatekeeper, more common than the translator, will be the legal advisors associated with the production of text. The intervention of lawyers is amply attested; little can be added here, save to note that they do come into the matter.

Also more common, and more needed, is the editor of a text. Whether the writer serves to edit her or his own text—and many do—or another editor entirely looks at the piece, someone will (or ought to) look at the text to ensure that it conforms to expected usage standards—whatever those may be.

Additionally, there is the publisher to consider—as well as the publisher’s advisors. They decide what gets out and how, and even self-published works will have such decisions made about them. The decision to permit or bar access is a mighty one, and it must also be considered.

And then, of course, what happens for the primary reader once the gatekeepers have let the text through, as with any other juncture, can interfere.

A Working Model

At the end of such discussion, then, but not at the end of what can be considered, a model of written communication can be looked at thus:

  • Interference
  • Writer
    • Authorial Persona
    • Narrator
  • Interference
  • Text
    • Paratext
      • Medium
      • Page Quality
      • Type Characteristics
      • Other Visuals
  • Interference
  • Gatekeepers
    • Translator
      • Translator’s Advisor/s
    • Legal Advisor/s
    • Editor
    • Publisher
      • Publisher’s Advisor/s
  • Interference
  • Primary Reader
  • Secondary Reader
  • Tertiary Reader

Return to top

References

  • Johnson-Sheehan, R. (2014) Technical communication strategies for today (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
  • McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding media: The extensions of man. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Pidgeon, S. (2013, January 5). Rapturous research. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/05/rapturous-research/

Return to top


I’d be happy to put my talents to work for you; let me know what all you need written below, and we’ll talk–or send along your kind contribution here!