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Checking the Logic of Sections

Now you need to determine whether the parts of your paper hang together to form a coherent argument and whether the parts are in an order that will seem to make sense to your reader.

1. Find the paper’s major sections.

Draw a line between every major section in your paper. A 4-5 page paper should have at least two and probably not more than three or four.

Now, analyze and revise each section as you did your whole paper.

2. Find each section’s introduction and conclusion.

Put a slash mark (/) after the introduction to each section. The introduction to a section may be only one sentence or it may be a complete paragraph. Each section needs a sentence that essentially tells your readers that they have finished one segment of your argument and are moving on to another.

Put a slash mark before the conclusion to each major section. If your sections are short—only a couple of paragraphs or less—that section might not need a separate conclusion.

3. Identify the major point in each section.

Just as your whole paper has to have a point, so should each section have a sentence that offers some generalization, some point, some claim that that section is intended to support. If most of your points seem to be at the beginnings of your sections, fine. If most of them are at the ends of your sections as conclusions, you have adjust.

4. Think hard about whether you want any particular section to be point-last.

If you can think of no good reason, revise so that that section is point-first. If you decide that you want the section to be point-last, then you’ll have to repeat for the section the process described for a point-last essay. You’ll need to write an introductory sentence for the section that uses some key words that will appear in the point sentence that concludes the section. This principle simply reflects the needs of readers to know where they are and where they are going. Nothing confuses a reader more than moving from paragraph to paragraph with no sense of the logical progression of your argument. Such an essay feels like pudding with an occasional raisin the chew on, but not in any particular order.

5. Ordering the sections.

Try to explain to yourself why you put the parts of the paper in the order you did. If you arranged the parts of your paper in the order you did because that’s the order in which they occurred to you as you drafted, your readers may be  likely not to see any rationale for moving through your paper in the order they do.

  • If you have several reasons for something, why are the reasons in the order they are currently in? (By the way, beware of simplistic organization-by-number: “First. . . Second. . . Third. . . ” If the only relationship you can demonstrate among your arguments is “first-second-third,” your essay will probably be perceived as unsophisticated. Most significant arguments have substantive relationships; they are related not merely by number but by content).
  • If you have ordered the parts of your paper from cause-to-effect, why did you do that? Why not effect-to-cause?
  • If you organized your paper to echo the organization of the text you are writing about, why have you done that? If you did, you risk having written a mere summary.
  • If you organized your paper to match the terms of the assignment, is that what your instructor wanted, or did your instructor want something more original from you?
  • If you organized your paper around major topics in your assignment (“Compare and contrast Freud and Jung in terms of the role of society in the development of their theories”) did you write about, say, Freud first and Jung second simply because that was the order in the assignment?

There are so many principles of order that we cannot list them all here. We can only urge you to identify the one you chose and then to justify it as the best one from among the many possible.


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