Order Of Points In An Essay

Ordering Information in the Body of the Essay

Choosing a Logical Order for Ideas - Once you have your thesis and your groups of supporting information with topic sentence ideas, you can determine the best possible order in which to present them in the essay. To determine the most logical shape or order, ask and answer these questions:

  • Is there a basic topic sentence idea that you should present first, before you explain the others, because the reader needs its information as background and because the other topic sentence ideas build upon it?
  • Are there some topic sentences and groups of information that are more important than others? Can you discern a logical pattern, either in ascending or descending order of importance?
  • Are there some topic sentences and groups of information that normally come first in a time sequence?

Order of complexity, order of importance, and time order are three basic, logical ways of shaping ideas to help the reading audience follow the flow of thought.

For example, consider the sample topic sentence, Adults returning to college face time, study, emotional, and family problems. Assuming that the order of the topic sentences in the support follows the order of ideas in the thesis, are these ideas arranged in a logical order? There doesn't seem to be any idea that has to be explained first. Also, each of the topic sentences that could be developed from this thesis seems equally complex. And the ideas don't exist in any type of chronological order. So how do you determine a logical shape and order of ideas for this essay? One way is to move from the problems that affect just one person, the student, to the problems that affect the whole family (emotional problems-study skills-juggling work and family-changing family roles). Another way is to move from the problems that can be dealt with more directly to those that are more complex to deal with (study skills-juggling work and family-changing family roles-emotional problems). The point here is that there needs to be some rationale or logical connection for ordering the ideas in the essay so that the essay's shape makes sense to others. And, whatever way the writer chooses, he/she then needs to align the order of ideas in the thesis to reflect the actual order of ideas in the support in order to complete the essay's logical shape.

Emphasis as a Means of Ordering Information in an Essay

Emphasis, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, is a "special importance or significance placed upon . . . something." You can choose to emphasize different things in an essay by choosing where to place the essay's main ideas (the thesis and topic sentence ideas).

You emphasize main ideas when you place them at the start of the essay or the unit of support. If you place the thesis toward the start of the essay and the topic sentences toward the start of each unit of support, you gear all of the support toward proving those main ideas. Emphasizing main ideas by placing them first is called deduction, which creates a general-to-specific structure in the essay by placing the major information first. Deduction helps you focus on an argument and create a case, as it requires you to develop support around a main point.

For example:

The Impatient Silent Twitchers form an interesting group of line-standers because of their variety. The Wristwatch Checkers are the mildest sub-group of this larger group. Their bodies remain quiet except for the one arm where that powerful necessity, the wristwatch, sits. Maybe that the electric battery in the watch emits tiny electrical impulses to the nerves...whatever it is, something creates a knee-jerk reaction in the arm to make the Wristwatch Checker's elbow defy gravity every minute and a half. Wristwatch Checkers are dangerous only in busy lines that wind back on themselves. As long as you're far enough away from them, though, they can make good line companions on warm, windless days.

You emphasize the method of reasoning and the particulars of the support as opposed to the main idea when you place the main ideas at the end of the essay or the unit of support. Main ideas still remain important when you place them at the end, but you offer them more as logical outcomes than as initial arguments (so the emphasis has changed). Putting the main idea at the end is called induction, which moves from specific information to general conclusions. Induction may help you present a controversial thesis to your reading audience. For example, if you were in favor of banning smoking in the doorways outside of buildings, you'd probably alienate many in your audience by placing that main idea first. But if you presented your support and lead into the main idea, your reading audience (smokers included!) might see the logic of your case (even if they didn't agree).

For example:

Some people stand in line quietly except for one arm which they constantly move up and down. These people check their wristwatches persistently, usually in regular short intervals which seem to become shorter as the line wait gets longer. Their arms jerk upward compulsively, elbows thrust out to the side, while their heads go down simultaneously. As the spasms subside, they usually accompany the arm's return to position by tapping their feet, exhaling loud breaths, or fidgeting in some other way. The Wristwatch Checkers are the subtlest and mildest members of the Impatient Silent Twitchers group of line-standers; they lend variety to a group whose movements usually are more pronounced.

You emphasize major ideas and method equally when you place main ideas in the middle of the essay or unit of support. In this case, the main idea exists neither as a generating point for the essay nor as a logical conclusion. Instead, it's a fulcrum which both grows out of and generates more particular support.

For example:

Imagine a sultry day. Imagine having to stand in a slow line to cash your paycheck afterhours at an ATM. Imagine, all of a sudden, feeling a slight but steady breeze. The trees are not affected; where is the breeze coming from? After a while you realize that you're getting fanned by the arm motions of the Wristwatch Checkers, the mildest group of the Impatient Silent Twitchers, an interesting group of line-standers. Their bodies remain quiet except for one arm where that powerful necessity, the wristwatch, sits. It may be the battery's impulses to the nerves that causes the twitch, but whatever it is, something creates that urge to make the arm defy gravity every minute and a half. On a hot day, though, you'll be grateful for whatever causes their compulsion to make the line move by checking the time.

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A classic format for compositions is the five-paragraph essay. It is not the only format for writing an essay, of course, but it is a useful model for you to keep in mind, especially as you begin to develop your composition skills. The following material is adapted from a handout prepared by Harry Livermore for his high school English classes at Cook High School in Adel, Georgia. It is used here with his permission.

Introduction:

Introductory Paragraph

See, first, Writing Introductory Paragraphs for different ways of getting your reader involved in your essay. The introductory paragraph should also include the thesis statement, a kind of mini-outline for the paper: it tells the reader what the essay is about. The last sentence of this paragraph must also contain a transitional "hook" which moves the reader to the first paragraph of the body of the paper.

Body:

Body — First paragraph:

The first paragraph of the body should contain the strongest argument, most significant example, cleverest illustration, or an obvious beginning point. The first sentence of this paragraph should include the "reverse hook" which ties in with the transitional hook at the end of the introductory paragraph. The topic for this paragraph should be in the first or second sentence. This topic should relate to the thesis statement in the introductory paragraph. The last sentence in this paragraph should include a transitional hook to tie into the second paragraph of the body.

Body — Second paragraph:

The second paragraph of the body should contain the second strongest argument, second most significant example, second cleverest illustration, or an obvious follow up the first paragraph in the body. The first sentence of this paragraph should include the reverse hook which ties in with the transitional hook at the end of the first paragraph of the body. The topic for this paragraph should be in the first or second sentence. This topic should relate to the thesis statement in the introductory paragraph. The last sentence in this paragraph should include a transitional hook to tie into the third paragraph of the body.

Body — Third paragraph:

The third paragraph of the body should contain the weakest argument, weakest example, weakest illustration, or an obvious follow up to the second paragraph in the body. The first sentence of this paragraph should include the reverse hook which ties in with the transitional hook at the end of the second paragraph. The topic for this paragraph should be in the first or second sentence. This topic should relate to the thesis statement in the introductory paragraph. The last sentence in this paragraph should include a transitional concluding hook that signals the reader that this is the final major point being made in this paper. This hook also leads into the last, or concluding, paragraph.

Conclusion:

Concluding paragraph:

This paragraph should include the following:

  1. an allusion to the pattern used in the introductory paragraph,
  2. a restatement of the thesis statement, using some of the original language or language that "echoes" the original language. (The restatement, however, must not be a duplicate thesis statement.)
  3. a summary of the three main points from the body of the paper.
  4. a final statement that gives the reader signals that the discussion has come to an end. (This final statement may be a "call to action" in an persuasive paper.)

A Sample Paper

1Stephen King, creator of such stories as Carrie and Pet Sematary, stated that the Edgar Allan Poe stories he read as a child gave him the inspiration and instruction he needed to become the writer that he is. 2Poe, as does Stephen King, fills the reader's imagination with the images that he wishes the reader to see, hear, and feel. 3His use of vivid, concrete visual imagery to present both static and dynamic settings and to describe people is part of his technique. 4Poe's short story "The Tell-Tale Heart" is a story about a young man who kills an old man who cares for him, dismembers the corpse, then goes mad when he thinks he hears the old man's heart beating beneath the floor boards under his feet as he sits and discusses the old man's absence with the police. 5In "The Tell-Tale Heart," a careful reader can observe Poe's skillful manipulation of the senses. The introductory paragraph includes a paraphrase of something said by a famous person in order to get the reader's attention. The second sentence leads up to the thesis statement which is the third sentence. The thesis statement (sentence 3) presents topic of the paper to the reader and provides a mini- outline. The topic is Poe's use of visual imagery. The mini- outline tells the reader that this paper will present Poe's use of imagery in three places in his writing: (1) description of static setting; (2) description of dynamic setting; and (3) description of a person. The last sentence of the paragraph uses the words "manipulation" and "senses" as transitional hooks.
1The sense of sight, the primary sense, is particularly susceptible to manipulation. 2In "The Tell-Tale Heart," Poe uses the following image to describe a static scene: "His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness . . ." Poe used the words "black," "pitch," and "thick darkness" not only to show the reader the condition of the old man's room, but also to make the reader feel the darkness." 3"Thick" is a word that is not usually associated with color (darkness), yet in using it, Poe stimulates the reader's sense of feeling as well as his sense of sight. In the first sentence of the second paragraph (first paragraph of the body) the words "sense" and "manipulation" are used to hook into the end of the introductory paragraph. The first part of the second sentence provides the topic for this paragraph--imagery in a static scene. Then a quotation from "The Tell-Tale Heart" is presented and briefly discussed. The last sentence of this paragraph uses the expressions "sense of feeling" and "sense of sight" as hooks for leading into the third paragraph.
1Further on in the story, Poe uses a couple of words that cross not only the sense of sight but also the sense of feeling to describe a dynamic scene. 2The youth in the story has been standing in the open doorway of the old man's room for a long time, waiting for just the right moment to reveal himself to the old man in order to frighten him. 3Poe writes: "So I opened it [the lantern opening]--you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily--until, at length, a single dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the crevice and fell full upon the vulture eye." 4By using the metaphor of the thread of the spider (which we all know is a creepy creature) and the word "shot," Poe almost makes the reader gasp, as surely did the old man whose one blind eye the young man describes as "the vulture eye." The first sentence of the third paragraph (second paragraph of the body) uses the words "sense of sight" and "sense of feeling" to hook back into the previous paragraph. Note that in the second paragraph "feeling" came first, and in this paragraph "sight" comes first. The first sentence also includes the topic for this paragraph--imagery in a dynamic scene. Again, a quotation is taken from the story, and it is briefly discussed. The last sentence uses the words "one blind eye" which was in the quotation. This expression provides the transitional hook for the last paragraph in the body of the paper.
1The reader does not know much about what the old man in this story looks like except that he has one blind eye. 2In the second paragraph of "The Tell-Tale Heart," Poe establishes the young man's obsession with that blind eye when he writes: "He had the eye of the vulture--a pale blue eye, with a film over it." 3This "vulture eye" is evoked over and over again in the story until the reader becomes as obsessed with it as does the young man. 4His use of the vivid, concrete word "vulture" establishes a specific image in the mind of the reader that is inescapable. In the first sentence of the fourth paragraph (third paragraph in the body), "one blind eye" is used that hooks into the previous paragraph. This first sentence also lets the reader know that this paragraph will deal with descriptions of people: ". . . what the old man looks like . . .." Once again Poe is quoted and discussed. The last sentence uses the word "image" which hooks into the last paragraph. (It is less important that this paragraph has a hook since the last paragraph is going to include a summary of the body of the paper.)
1"Thick darkness," "thread of the spider," and "vulture eye" are three images that Poe used in "The Tell-Tale Heart" to stimulate a reader's senses. 2Poe wanted the reader to see and feel real life. 3He used concrete imagery rather than vague abstract words to describe settings and people. 4If Edgar Allan Poe was one of Stephen King's teachers, then readers of King owe a debt of gratitude to that nineteenth-century creator of horror stories. The first sentence of the concluding paragraph uses the principal words from the quotations from each paragraph of the body of the paper. This summarizes those three paragraph. The second and third sentences provide observations which can also be considered a summary, not only of the content of the paper, but also offers personal opinion which was logically drawn as the result of this study. The last sentence returns to the Edgar Allan Poe-Stephen King relationship which began this paper. This sentence also provides a "wrap-up" and gives the paper a sense of finality.

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