Limiting the Subject

In most cases a limiting sentence or clause must follow the announcement of the subject. Few essays (or books, for that matter) discuss all there is to say; they treat some aspects of a subject but not others. As with announcement, limitation may be explicit or implicit. The first—in which the writer says, in effect, "I shall say such and more common in formal, scholarly writing. The grammarian Karl Dy-kema begins an article entitled "Where Our Grammar Came From":

The title of this paper is too brief to be quite accurate. Perhaps with the following subtitle it does not promise too much: A partial account of the origin and development of the attitudes which commonly pass for grammatical in Western culture and particularly in English-speaking societies.

On informal occasions one should limit the subject less literally, implying the boundaries of the paper rather than literally stating them:

Publishers, I am told, are worried about their business, and I, as a writer, am therefore worried too. But I am not sure that the actual state of their affairs disturbs me quite so much as some of the analyses of it and some of the proposals for remedying what is admittedly an unsatisfactory situation. Joseph Wbod Krutch

Without literally saying so, Krutch makes it clear that he will confine his interest in the problems publishers face to criticizing some of the attempts that have been made to explain and solve those problems.

Besides being explicit or implicit, limitation may also be positive or negative (or both). The paragraphs by and Krutch tell us what the writers will do; they limit the subject in a positive sense. In the following case the English writer and statesman John Buchan tells what he will not do

(the paragraph opens the chapter "My America" of his book

Pilgrim's Way):

The title of this chapter exactly defines its contents. It presents the American scene as it appears to one observer—a point of view which does not claim to be that mysterious thing, objective truth. There will be no attempt to portray the "typical" American, for I have never known one. I have met a multitude of individuals, but I should not dare to take any one of them as representing his coun-being that other mysterious thing, the average man. You can point to certain qualities which are more widely distributed in America than elsewhere, but you will scarcely find human beings who possess all these qualities. One good American will have most of them; another, equally good and not less representative, may have few or none. So I shall eschew generalities. If you cannot indict a nation, no more can you label it like a museum piece.

Some limitation—explicit or implicit, positive or negative— is necessary at the beginning of most essays. Term papers, long formal essays whose purpose is to inform, technical and scholarly articles, all may have to engage in extensive boundary fixing to avoid misleading or disappointing the reader. Shorter themes, however, do not require much limitation. Readers learn all they really need to know by an opening sentence like this:

College is different from high school in several ways—especially in teaching, homework, and tests.

The final phrase conveys the limitations, following the announcement in the first clause of the sentence. The subject is a contrast between college and high school, the focus is on college, and the contents are limited to three specific points of difference. That is limitation enough for a brief, informal essay, and the writer can get on with the discussion without a heavy statement like this:

I shall limit the contrast to teaching methods, homework, and tests.

There is no rule to test whether you have limited a subject sufficiently. Just put yourself in the reader's place and ask if it is clear (whether by direct statement or by implication) what the essay will do and what it will not do.

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