Indicating the Plan of the Essay

Another function of the beginning, though not an invariable one, is to clarify how the essay will be organized. The writer has the plan in mind when composing the beginning paragraph (or revising it). The question is: Should the plan be revealed to the reader?

Writers often do consider it necessary. Harold Mattingly begins his book Roman Imperial Civilization with this paragraph:

The object of this first chapter is to give a sketch of the Empire which may supply a background to all that follows: to explain what the position of Emperor from time to time was, how it was defined in law, how it was interpreted by the subjects; then, around the Emperor, to show the different parts of the State in relation to one another and to him. Later chapters will develop particular themes. We shall have to consider at the close how far the constitution of the Empire was satisfactory for its main purposes, how much truth there is in the contention that imperfections in the constitution were a main cause of Decline and Fall.

The paragraph indicates not only the plan of the first chapter and that of the whole book, but also how the opening chapter fits into the larger organization.

Even with subjects less complex and grand than the Roman Empire, writers may wish to tell us how they intend to develop their essays:

t want to tell you about a woodsman, what he was like, what his work was, and what it meant. His name was Alfred D. Teare and he came originally from Nova Scotia, but all the time I knew him his home was in Berlin, New Hampshire. Probably the best sur veyor of old lines in New England, he his genius. Kenneth Andler

This straightforward paragraph not only announces and limits the subject but also reveals something about the organization of the essay. Readers are prepared for a three-part structure: Teare as a person, the nature of his work, and the significance of that work. Assuming that the writer knows his in this case he know the order in which he mentions these aspects of his subject reflects the order in which he will treat them. The plan has been implicitly and effectively.

Establishing your plan in the beginning has several virtues. It eases the reader's task. Knowing where they are headed, readers can follow the flow of ideas. An initial indication of the organization also simplifies later problems of transition. When a writer can assume that readers understand the general scheme of the essay, it is easier to move them from point to point.

As with limiting the subject, one cannot set down clear-cut rules about when to reveal the plan. Generally it is wise to indicate something about the organization of compositions that are relatively long and that fall into several well-defined parts. Shorter, simpler essays less often require that their plan be established in the opening paragraph.

When you must indicate your plan, do so as subtly as you can. The imaginary theme about high school and college that begins:

College is different from high school in several in teaching methods, homework, and tests.

clearly implies the three parts of the essay and their order. In longer work you may occasionally feel it desirable to indicate organization explicitly. But be sure that your subject is substantial enough and your purpose serious enough to support such a beginning.

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Project Management Made Easy

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