Plan & Discourse development

Distill the plan of a text

  • Understand the meaning Look up words and concepts you don't know so that you understand the author's sentences and how they relate to one another.
  • Identify the main point Whether a piece of writing contains a thesis statement in the first few paragraphs or builds its main point without stating it up front, look at the entire piece to arrive at an understanding of the overall point being made.
  • Identify the subordinate points Notice the smaller subpoints that make up the main point. If a particular subpoint doesn't clearly relate to the main point you've identified, you may need to modify your understanding of the main point.
  • Break the reading into sections Work through the text to identify its sections -single paragraphs or groups of paragraphs focused on a single topic. To understand how parts of a work relate to one another, try drawing a tree diagram or creating an outline. There are some nice mind mapping programmes available -have a look at the Brainstorming tools in the software section.
  • Distill each section Write a one- or two-sentence summary of each section you identify. Focus on the main points of each section, omitting examples, and other supporting evidence.
  • Distinguish between points, examples, counterarguments Critical reading requires careful attention to what a writer is doing as well as what he or she is saying. When a writer quotes someone else, or relays an example of something, ask yourself why this is being done. What point is the example supporting? Is another source being quoted as support for a point, or as a counterargument that the writer sets out to address?
  • Watch for transitions within and between paragraphs In order to follow the logic of a piece of writing, as well as to distinguish between points, examples, and counterarguments, pay attention to the transitional words and phrases writers use. Transitions function like road signs, preparing the reader for what's next.

Create a plan

On the highest discursive level, each academic text consists of three basic elements:

  • an introduction This is where you establish or introduce your topic (in the topic sentence) and elaborate it into your thesis statement (the conceptual core of your paper). You may also want to prepare the ground for what's to follow in your body (by demonstrating for instance how the present examination can accomplish what has not been accomplished previously. Read more information the introduction of an essay
  • a body This is obviously where you develop your entire paper. In long papers, you briefly may want to repeat the present examination and state its purpose; in shorter papers, however, this is not necessary. Other than that, you may also want to review published or other sources of information, explain which how your research fills a void, and develop your paper from there on. Read more information on the body of an essay
  • a conclusion Here you wrap things up -mind, that's not just summarizing what you wrote! You may also want to draw some conclusions -thoughts for the reader to take home. Read more information on the conclusion of an essay

Types of plans

Analytical development

Alongside the main flow of your paragraph, be that inductive or deductive, you can of course choose to focus on different issues: you may want to compare and contrast two poems, or define a set of concepts necessary for a good understanding of your text, or you may want to analyse a your subject in terms of causes and effects, etc.

Linear development

Without consciously thinking about the process, you may often organize paragraphs in easily recognized patterns that give the reader a sense of logical movement and order. Discussed below are four common patterns of ordering sentences in a paragraph

Order of time

Some paragraphs are composed of details arranged in chronological order. You might, for example, explain the methodology of a certain scientific experiment by clearly saying where you began, and how you then proceeded to the next stage. For example,

To enable smoother handling of the large quantity of data, the 7-10-min long recordings were divided into 30-s segments stored as separate sound files. Each file was then processed using the speech analysis function of the program WaveSurfer (...) The next steps in the analysis were to delete from the spreadsheet program all values of zero (from unvoiced segments or silence), and all values that corresponded to errors in the pitch extraction (as evidenced by the visual inspection). Then, for each 10 s of speech, the mean and standard deviations of the pitch were calculated. Ten seconds of speech was chosen as a good unit for data analysis because it was enough time to guarantee the inclusion of a fair amount of speech at normal pausing rates.

Order of space

When your subject is a physical object, you should select some orderly means of describing it: from left to right, top to bottom, inside to outside, and so forth. For example, you might describe a sculpture as you walk around if from front to back. Compare the next two paragraphs:

Faulty spatial order:
Manhattan island contains many different sections. The predominantly black and Hispanic section of Harlem is up on one end. On the other end is the financial district, Chinatown, and Little Italy. Midtown, as the the name suggests, is in the middle, and it has Times Square and many famous theaters. Then there is the rather rundown lower Eastside, the very ritzy upper East Side, and the hip Greenwich Village. There is also Soho, which has a lot of shops and restaurants. Manhattan is an island because it is surrounded by three rivers, the Hudson, the East, and the Harlem.

Coherent spatial order:
Manhattan island contains many different sections. The island is surrounded by three rivers, the Hudson along the length of the Westside, the East about halfway up the Eastside, and the smaller Harlem River, which completes the angular shape of the northeast section. In the southeast corner of the island is the financial district, running from the island's tip up to about Canal Street af the north. To the west of the financial district are the ethnic neighbourhoods of Chinatown and Little Italy. Greenwich Village begins above the financial district and runs from Houston Street north to about 14th Street, while the area west of Broadway on this portion of the island is considered the East Village and the lower East Side. Soho, a neighbourhood of trendy shops and restaurants, is north of the village, and north of Soho begins midtown Manhattan, with its many restaurants, theaters, and the famous Times Square. Midtown is bounded on the north by Central Park, which begins at 57th Street and runs north to 110th. On both the west and east sides of the park are residential neighbourhoods of many apartment buildings, with the upper East Side being very fashionable. North of the park is the largely black and Hispanic section of Harlem.

As is obvious, the second paragraph is much longer, but it is easier to follow because the writer has used spatial arrangement, beginning with the boundaries of the island to create a sense of the whole, and then moving from south to north to chart the various sections. The first paragraph, in contrast, just lists sections randomly. Whether you are describing something as small as an object or as large as Manhattan, remember that spatial arrangement will be easier for your readers to follow and will give them a clearer sense of your topic.