Most of the writing you do for school and the world of work is expository or persuasive writing. While the purpose of each form is different, the method of composition is very similar for both. In order to improve your success in composition it is very important to understand the basic elements of this kind of writing.
The following chapter from Developing Writing Skills explains the key elements of exposition and provides practice in the essential elements of expository structure. For this section, you need to read and take notes on the information which follows and do the exercises as they appear. In exercises where the activity requires that you "share with a partner or class," please write an explanation instead.
Chapter Three: Exposition
It was in Canada that the desire to write came upon me. It was in Canada that I first saw my name in print. I owe more to this Country and its people than I can put into words.
The second half of the twentieth century has seen an "Information Explosion." As Alvin Toffler has observed in Future Shock, a great leap forward in knowledge--acquisition occurred with the invention of movable type in the fifteenth century. Before 1500, about one thousand books a year were printed in Europe. About that many are now produced world-wide in a single day. Organizations based entirely on the "information sciences" have been formed specifically to keep business, industry, government, the military, and education up-to-date on the most recent world and national developments. A recent IBM advertisement expresses the current corporate view that "What you don't know can hurt you." Many executives and decision makers hesitate to make vital decisions without the latest, perhaps crucial, information.
Television and films have become popular modern sources of information, but for hundreds of years people have depended on exposition to extend and transmit knowledge. Exposition is the kind of writing that communicates information. Basically, it explains and exposes, or "puts forth," information. At one time, writers insisted that exposition should not be concerned with imagination or feelings or with convincing a reader to act in a certain way.
Things have changed, however, and modern writers know that presenting information alone is not enough. Good exposition appeals to the imagination and feelings of a reader. In many cases it will also lead the reader to act on the basis of the information given.
Your major writing assignment for this chapter will be an expository composition. You will prepare for that assignment by practising various techniques for beginning, developing, and ending expository material. If you master each component skill, putting them all together will not be so difficult.
Three Samples of Modern Exposition
As you read these samples of exposition, pay special attention to the four qualities people look for in writing: Invention, Disposition, Style, and Mechanics, which are described in Chapter 1. Look also for appeals to imagination, feelings, and decision making. Try to decide who the writer's intended audience is, and what details the writer has included to appeal to that audience. Look for techniques of effective exposition which you may want to use in your writing later.
THE NEW COMPUTER REVOLUTION
The new age of the computer has been called the second Industrial Revolution. Just as machinery amplified and extended the power of human muscles, so computers amplify and extend the power of the human brain. Although computers have definite limitations, there are virtually no areas of activity in the world today that have not been influenced by the computer to some extent. You cannot get through a day without being touched by this influence many times, whether or not you are aware of it.
Let's look at some of the areas in which computers are helping people to do their jobs better, or freeing them for more enjoyable activities.
In the areas of scientific research, engineering, and space science, computers have had the earliest, greatest, and most constant impact. In the world of business and finance, increasingly complex operations are possible only because of the computer's capacity to store and retrieve masses of information. In industry, many of the processes that transform raw material to finished product are controlled by computers.
Schools and universities have felt the impact of the computer age. Administrators use computers for record-keeping and scheduling and other routine tasks. Teachers use them as instructional tools. At the university level, major areas of study from architecture to forestry are making use of computers. Many universities that once made Latin a mandatory entrance requirement now require instead proficiency in at least one computer programming language!
There is still another area where the use of computers is growing rapidly. Since human beings play as well as work, it's not surprising that a major use of the computer is for fun. Chess champions have played exciting games with a computer as a partner. Swimmers touch electronic plates at the finish line. And for spectators, computerized ticket agencies can reserve seats, print tickets, and charge the cost to credit cards.
Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind as we marvel at this computer revolution is this: Because computers can relieve us of doing routine mental tasks, we find ourselves with more freedom to develop our creativity. While computers carry on the more mundane work of society, we are free to organize, invent, create, and wonder--and put the computer to work producing the inventions and helping to discover the answers.
Mention weight training to most women and they grimace at the thought of becoming muscle-bound. Yet thousands of Canadian women are entering the world of dumbbells and benches, bars and squat stands, both in comfortable clubs decorated with the feminine touch and in erstwhile "men only" gyms, where the smell of sweat still drifts out from under a cloud of Glade.
Robert Kennedy, a body culture author who publishes Muscle Mag International in Brampton, Ontario, estimates a 100% rise in women's participation in weight training in the last twelve months, and increases were reported by all the bodyshop owners I spoke to. Their female members aren't doing it to strike fear into families and friends; they've discovered that weight training is the quickest, most scientific way to reshape a body.
Robyn Goorevitch conducts the "Slender Salon" at the Moncton, New Brunswick YMCA, which has 300 women enrolled in its program, up from 200 last year. "Quite a number of women are enrolled in weight exercises," she says. "Most of them are into it for slimming. We give them flexibility exercises--we use weights a lot."
The Chaudibre Health Centre in Lucerne, Quebec, says it has seen a 30% increase in women's enrollment in weight programs. And Janet Hudson of the European Spa Fitness Centre in North Vancouver says, "Women are into weight training much more heavily than they were. We now use weights in all our programs and the women are very enthusiastic."
A woman who works out with weights need not fear that she'll end up with arms and legs like Lou Ferrigno's. Ken Wheeler, who manages several Vic Tanny's clubs in Ontario, points out that women's bodies develop along different lines from men's. Women's muscles are less prominent and more esthetically pleasing. Even hard-working bodybuilding women will never look like Arnold Schwarzenegger because the male hormone testosterone plays an important part in the way muscles develop.
What's a palimpsest anyway? The word is not in everyday usage, but it is important to art historians. A palimpsest, by definition, is a canvas or parchment used over and over again: a painting on a painting on a painting.... Art thieves use palimpsests. How else could they get the Mona Lisa past French customs? Once safely through, the thieves would carefully rub off the top layer of an unremarkable work to reveal the smiling lady. You can find an everyday example of a palimpsest when you chip paint in an old apartment. The tastes of each of the previous tenants are preserved in chronological order with your color on top.
Land is also a palimpsest. A succession of human cultures, each with different priorities, has painted its record on the basic environmental canvas. Today's shopping center was yesterday's orchard and before that a frontier farm and an Indian council ring. Probe back 40 000 years in North America and there is an environment totally unmodified by Homo Sapiens.
It is good to celebrate places in the world where the crust of civilization is thin and broken. It is important that the palimpsest occasionally part to reveal the Old Master beneath man's paintings. It does not matter that the gaps vary in size. Some of them are relatively large: (we call these national parks and wilderness areas). Others may be as small and unexpected as a fringe of tall-grass prairie paralleling a railroad in the Midwest or a mossy boulder in New York City's Central Park. Beauty--and meaning--is in the eye of the beholder. What really matters is that the wild not vanish from the world that we have largely repainted. As curators we must be worthy of the delicate palimpsest we have inherited.
The Outside Structure
Every piece of exposition differs from every other piece, and by looking in textbooks, magazines, newspapers, and hobby kits, you can find many different types. Because exposition is the kind of writing that gets the world's work done, it is everywhere and of every type.
For our purposes, then, we'll leave out the instructive "how-to-do-it" type that makes no attempt to interest or to motivate. The kind of exposition you're going to produce is like the preceding models: short, focused, interesting, and purposeful.
This kind of exposition is easy to write because it has two structures: the outside structure and the inside structure. The outside structure consists of a kind of "wrapper" that goes around the main body of an expository paper. It consists of the introduction and the conclusion. Look at the beginning and end of each of the foregoing selections. (Sometimes the beginning will be just one sentence; sometimes it will be a paragraph or two. The endings vary similarly.)
A good introduction does two and sometimes three tasks as it prepares a reader psychologically for the main body of the paper. An introduction:
1. Arouses interest.
2. States the main idea or purpose of the paper.
3. Gives an overview of the main divisions of the paper (optional).
By the time readers have finished the introduction, they are ready to go on to the body of the paper.
Look at the preceding selections. Read the introductions carefully. Determine where and how each introduction arouses interest and reveals the main idea or purpose of the selection. None of the examples gives an overview of the main divisions of the paper. You will look at this task of an introduction later.
A good conclusion does one task and sometimes two as it wraps up the expository paper. A conclusion:
1. Summarizes the main points (optional).
2. Provides an interesting closure (ending) and a satisfying feeling of completion.
The introduction and the conclusion, which together "wrap up" the body of the paper, are the outside structure.
Investigating Outside Structures
A newspaper or magazine must "earn" its audience. If it doesn't, people don't buy it, and the company fails. However, some publications are not required to "earn" their audiences. For example, certain technical reports, laws, directions, and so on, are required reading whether the writer has earned the attention of an audience or not. Students are required to read certain textbooks, interesting or not.
For this assignment, limit yourself to the kind of publications that are required to earn their audiences and find three examples. Look at the beginnings and endings of selections from them and try to find out how they have used the outside structure of exposition. Photocopy or write out the introduction and conclusion of one of your selections. Explain the way the writer caught the interest of the reader, how the main idea was expressed, and how a feeling of closure was provided.
The Inside Structure
The inside structure of an expository composition consists of the material as it is organized in the body of the paper. Look at the different ways the three selections you have just read are organized:
1. The selection called "The New Computer Revolution" divides the material into paragraphs according to the various areas in which computers are being used.
2. The selection on women and weight training states that the once male-oriented sport of weight lifting is beginning to appeal to women, goes on to provide detail concerning the extent of this trend, and then concludes that weight lifting for women just might have a deeper significance than exercise.
3. The selection on the environment defines the word "palimpsest"; then it uses the comparison pattern to show how layers of civilization built on land are like a palimpsest.
Though each of these "inside structures" is different, each is closely tied to its "outside structure," and each develops the main idea or "thesis statement" set forth in the introduction. The thesis statement gives the main idea or purpose of the composition. Stating this idea is one of the tasks of a good introduction.
Following is a piece of writing that lacks an outside structure. The inside structure, or body, contains interesting historical information, factual information, and anecdotal details and examples. Yet, the lack of an outside structure to support the body results in problems. What do you think the main idea of this paper is?
The two-house parliamentary system established in Canada was modeled on that of Great Britain. The Americans, on the other hand, adopted a different philosophy of government and set up a system of "checks and balances" based on a clear division of power and authority among governmental institutions which oversee one another. This difference of philosophy is one of the most significant differences between the two types of government.
Canada, though, did not adopt the British system without alteration. Instead of a House of Lords, we, like the Americans, have a senate. Our senate, however, does not have the same function and powers of its American equivalent. As part of the legislative branch of government, the American Senate is an elected body. Canadian senators are created through government appointment. The Americans questioned the wisdom of an appointed legislative body. Perhaps they were wise to do so. Then again, perhaps the major issue we must face concerning our senate does not have to do with the matter of election or appointment. We cannot judge the effectiveness of governmental institutions on this one criterion alone.
Another important fact to consider is the nature of executive power. The role of the American president is, in many ways, autonomous. Unlike the Canadian prime minister, the president does not lead the government in its legislative debate. The Canadian prime minister, though, is a parliamentary fighter and has no austere power of veto. Perhaps Sir John A. Macdonald's government could have withstood the infamous Pacific Scandal if Macdonald had been able to remain aloof from the House of Commons and wield more executive power. But then, the Watergate scandal in the United States resulted in the fall of a president. So the presidency may not be as aloof and powerful as we might imagine. After all, unlike President Nixon, Macdonald came back into power and went on to finish his dream of a national railway. Again we see that we must think twice before seeking solutions to what we see as weaknesses in our governmental system south of the border.
A thesis statement is to a longer paper what a topic sentence is to a paragraph, and both thesis statements and topic sentences consist of two parts: a complete subject and a complete predicate. The complete subject identifies a topic and limits that topic to something the writer intends to discuss. The complete predicate presents an attitude toward or an idea about the topic that the writer will demonstrate or prove. A topic sentence, then, names the subject of a paragraph and states what the writer will prove or demonstrate about that subject. A thesis statement does the same for a longer paper. To write a thesis statement or a topic sentence, then, a writer must define the subject (if it needs defining) and present, in the predicate, an attitude towards or an idea about the subject. Here is a diagram of a thesis statement:
have chosen a neutral role in international affairs.
An idea about the subject
Here are the thesis statements of the first three selections.
1. ...the computer Revolution
2. Thousands of Canadian women
are entering the world of dumbbells and benches, bars and squat stands ...
is also a palimpsest
As you look at the preceding thesis statements, which subjects seem to you to need defining? Has the writer done this? Do any of the predicates seem to need defining or explaining as well as proving? Has the writer done this?
It is not always necessary to express a thesis statement. Sometimes writers imply or suggest a thesis statement. A problem with implied thesis statements, however, is that sometimes readers do not really understand what the writer is trying to prove. Look for the thesis statement in the selection about government. Do you find it expressed anywhere? Is there an implied thesis statement? What is it? How could the selection be improved?
Locating and Understanding Thesis Statements
Locate and write out the thesis statement in each of the following passages. It may be stated or implied. Divide the thesis statement into its complete subject and complete predicate. Explain what tasks the writer must do because of the way the thesis statement is expressed. The first one has been done for you.
I . Big. Tough. Monied. They're words that describe Alberta, and they have a nice masculine ring to them. Canadians tend to categorize Alberta as a man's country--a land of ranchers, roughnecks and red-necks, like Texas or Australia, with traditional values that leave little room for feminine influences.
But in 75 years of provincehood the female fact has been pervasive and important. From the beginning, women suffered the isolation and loneliness of pioneer existence with an endurance more than the equal of their men's. Many of them, like Ukrainian women settlers at the turn of the century, cleared the land and harvested the crops while their husbands were away working on the railroad.
The female fact (in Alberta)
has been pervasive and important
The thesis statement indicates the writer's task--to demonstrate how women have made significant contributions to Alberta society during 75 years of provincehood.
2. You buy, collect, inherit, and hoard. And suddenly there comes a day when you have an irresistible desire to unload the excess baggage.
Whatever it is that you have too much of, you want to eliminate it. This happens to all of us. The question then arises, how to dispose of the goods most advantageously? The answer depends on the types of items and why you want to pass them on.
3. A few years ago, Noel Vietmeyer, a staff director of the National Academy of Sciences, was surprised to find in a collection of reports on tropical plants one with a curious title: "Psophocarpus tetragonotobus: Crop with a Future?" Neither Vietmeyer nor any other agriculture scientist would be surprised today. For the plant, better known as "the winged bean" because of the four winglike flanges on its pod, is now regarded as a great green hope among the experts who worry about new food sources for the overpopulated and under-developed world.
4. What's in a no-name? Rich people think more about money than poor people do: that's usually how they got rich. So it shouldn't be any surprise that when no-name generic food products came to Canada, the people who hurried down to the stores to buy them were not the poor (who really needed cheap food) but the comparatively well-heeled, once again grabbing the bargains. The poor come later. As one food executive says, after surveying some elaborate marketing research: 'The first to take the plunge were the more affluent. They are always more innovative and tend to be more cost conscious." After a lifetime spent in the bright ambiance of highly touted brands, leaping into the darkness of generic products took a bit of daring.
Saturday Night Magazine
Creating Thesis Statements
Go through the following steps to prepare a list of at least ten possible thesis statements on which you might base an expository paper.
1. List subjects on which anyone ought to be able to speak for three minutes without any preparation. What are subjects that most of us know something about and have opinions about? (Begin with television, cars, health foods, and go on from there!) This is just a point of departure for building a storehouse of ideas on which you can write. Your life is filled with topics for exposition, and you can get many ideas from television, newspapers, magazines, films, libraries, conversations, experiments, and questionnaires.
2. Of all these topics, select ten that interest you. "Brainstorm" these topics so that you have some idea of your knowledge base. Consider your knowledge base and narrow each subject. For example, if the topic were cars, and your knowledge base were appropriate, limit yourself to "dune buggies." If the topic were television, you might select one particular program or "science fiction programs."
3. Now take five of the ten topics you chose and narrow them even further. Instead of "dune buggies," you might narrow your topic to "The plans I bought for a modified dune buggy."
4. When each topic has been narrowed sufficiently, it can serve as the complete subject of a thesis statement. If it's too broad for that, go through more narrowing steps. Now think of an idea you could communicate about each of the subjects you have chosen. This idea becomes the complete predicate of the thesis statement. Your idea should be something worth saying, something that isn't so obvious as not to need proving or explaining, and something you can handle. Using the dune buggy example, you might decide to work from a thesis statement like: "The plans I bought for a modified dune buggy are too complicated for me to use."
5. Keep your original list of topics, your topic notes, your ten narrowed topics, and your thesis statements. Use all these as your storehouse of raw materials for future writing. Add to your storehouse from time to time, consciously expanding your supply of ideas.
Some Warnings About Topic Sentences and Thesis Statements
The suggestions you've just read for developing topic sentences and thesis statements are helpful. But, at times, you may have trouble developing a thesis statement on certain subjects. Some people just don't write effectively if they are forced to develop thesis statements before they write. Here are two warnings.
1. Writing is, in itself, a process of discovery. Sometimes writers really don't know what they want to say before they begin to write, so they can't possibly begin by expressing a thesis statement. In such cases, they begin writing and the process of writing helps them clarify their thoughts and discover what they want to say. When they get to the point at which they know their thesis statement, they then go back over their work and make sure that everything pertains to the subject and supports that main idea.
2. Sometimes, for various reasons, writers do not express a thesis statement directly. For diplomatic reasons, they may not want to offend readers. For aesthetic and artistic reasons, they may prefer a more subtle approach. For psychological reasons, they may feel that the main idea will be more effective and longlasting if the reader has to discover it. These variations from the expository pattern are fine. Indeed, the most outstanding writers are probably the most subtle, seldom using anything as obvious as an overt, direct statement of purpose. However, for direct, simple communication, thesis statements are best for beginning writers.
You've looked at the most important part of an introduction--the thesis statement--but the second part is almost as important. This is the part which arouses the readers' interest, gets them involved, and makes them want to continue reading.
Frank Luther Mott, a famous professor of journalism, developed a formula to explain why people choose to read certain selections rather than others. He calls his formula the "fraction of selection."
Fraction of Selection =
Expectation of Reward
In other words, to get people to read what you write, you must show them that they'll get a high reward for little effort. If your reader is highly motivated because of previous interest in the subject or because the reading is required, motivation is less important. Nonetheless, it's a good idea to arouse interest by having a clear, interesting thesis statement and by writing clearly and sharply.