V. Use a Logical Progression of Ideas
Feb 21, 2011 by Caroline Eisner
This blog is about development of your ideas into a logical progression so that your reader can follow along with your argument. Part of becoming a good academic writer is learning to order your paragraphs and evidence in a linear progression through transitions, signal phrases, and verbs that tell the reader if you agree or disagree with the evidence you are providing and analyzing. Each paragraph, and your paper as a whole, should follow this format:
- Introduce the main idea that you will be discussing.
- Provide the evidence used to prove your argument.
- Outline the significance of the evidence you have provided.
For example, in a paragraph in which I am introducing evidence to support my ideas, I would write one or two sentences providing a transition from my last paragraph into this paragraph, and introduce the main idea of this paragraph, as well as introducing the upcoming quotation, paraphrase, or evidence. Then I would include the relevant quotation, or paraphrase. After providing the evidence, I would write an analysis (not summary) of the evidence so that the reader knows why I chose this evidence to support my argument. This may take several sentences. The point is that you shouldn’t simply drop evidence into your paper and expect your reader to know make the connections. Remember, you are holding the reader’s hand.
To create a smooth and logical progression of ideas, transitions need to show how the next sentences, paragraphs, and sections follow from the preceding ones, thus sustaining momentum and echoing key words or resonant phrases quoted or stated earlier. Use appropriate transitions between paragraphs or sections, so that your reader is never forced to figure out why you chose the quotation or evidence you did, or what it means. Your transitions will guide the reader from concept to concept.
When you create a logical progression of ideas, you will convince your readers by leading your reader through the most compelling ordering of your ideas. The challenge is to make your writing structure firm and clear while still allowing for complication--without making it feel mechanical or like a laundry list. Remember, no writing project is ever really finished, and new evidence may require that you restructure your argument, take a different stance, apply a different transition, etc.
This progression of ideas leads the reader to the conclusions you promise when you answer your “So What” question. Your ideas follow a logical order, and the links or transitions in that order must be apparent to the reader. These links are often referred to as the “stitching,” as you stitch together your argument in a seamless yet conscientious effort to move your reader along. The argument needs to progress forward, to develop or complicate the issues, not simply to restate the main idea or what you hope to prove.
Stitching requires strong verbs and transitions, which act as signposts for the reader. These signposts indicate to the reader how a new sentence, paragraph, or section follows from the previous one.
In academic writing, you need to use strong active verbs. For example,
- Use “assist” instead of “help out.”
- Use “establish” instead of “set up.”
- Use “increase” instead of “going up.”
Remember, writing is a process, and as your argument builds, and your ideas solidify, the ways in which you structure your argument may also change. It’s all a draft until it is not.
Caroline L. Eisner
ACW Director of Academic Writing