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LEVELS OF USAGE --
MACROLEVEL -- The prefix "macro" is from the Greek makros and means large as opposed to "micro" from the Greek mikros which means small. Macrolevel is a useful jargon word in psycholinguistics which means "the big picture" or "the whole thing." Viewed from the macrolevel, a piece of wrting is considered in its entirety rather than in regard to any of its componant parts, words, sentences, or paragraphs.
Sometimes the word "global" is used as a synonym as in "a global view of the text" or "a global view of the problem." This term may have been inspired by photographs of the earth seen in its entirety, floating in space.
MAIN IDEA -- The main idea of an essay, or other written discourse, is the point that the author is trying to make. It is the most important thing that he wants you to understand about the topic. It is most often stated explicitly, although in narrative essays or in fiction it may be implicit. When the main idea is stated explicitly, it may be given in a single sentence or in several sequential sentences.
The main idea sentence is sometimes called a “thesis statement,” but there is a difference between the two. A thesis statement expresses the writer's opinion on the topic of an argumentative essay. His purpose is to persuade readers to accept his point of view. On the other hand, a main idea expresses a fact about the topic of an expository essay. The writer's purpose in this case is not to persuade but to explain. Even though there is this difference, common practice is to use the terms "main idea" and "thesis" interchangeably as I sometimes do in this glossary.
The main idea will be the most general statement in the essay and will serve as an umbrella to cover all the information that the essay contains. It provides unity for the essay in the same way that a topic sentence provides unity for a paragraph. Topics that are not logically related to the main idea should not be included in the essay.
In most exposition, the main idea is stated at the end of the introduction. In narrative essays it is sometimes found in other places, sometimes in the middle and sometimes at the end. When it comes at the end of a narrative, it is like a caption to a political cartoon or a frame of a comic strip. After the writer has painted a picture of an event, he then gives it an explicit label. Not wanting the reader to miss the point, he ends by sayings in effect, "Now this is what I see as true and important in this story, and it is what I want you to remember." When the main idea comes at or near the beginning of an essay, we say that the essay has deductive organization. When it comes near the end, we say that it has inductive organization.
When the main idea is stated explicitly, the sentence has several important functions. First, it must name the topic of the writing. Is it about cars, boats, terrorists, pregnant wives, mutual funds, or baseball? Naming the topic limits what can be talked about in the essay and provides unity.
Second, it should give some indication of how the writer is going to treat the topic For example, is the writer going to argue about the topic, or explain it by dividing it into parts, give a history of it, compare it to something else, define it, or show what its effects are? A thesis sentence will indicate this by using key words or phrases that reveal the method of development the writer intends. Click hereto see examples of thesis sentences for different kinds of expository essays.
The third job of the main idea sentence is to give a preview of the essay. It does this by naming the main points the essay will cover. Look at these examples.
MODES OF DISCOURSE – The term "modes of discourse" means ways of writing. A discourse is a set of sentences about a topic. A discourse may range in length from a short paragraph to an entire volume or more. The word "mode" means a way of doing something, or a way in which a device might operate. For example, in a game you can switch from an offensive to a defensive mode as events dictate, and you can also select the chop or puree mode on your electric blender. In writing you can choose to cast your work in one of the four traditional modes of discourse: narration, description, exposition, or argument.
These names are indicative of the purpose of the writing, and each also implies a structure. Narratives tell stories and are usually organized chronologically; description tells what things look, sound, feel, taste, and smell like and often assume a dimensional organization as from left to right, top to bottom, near to far, etc.; exposition has the purpose of giving information and is divided into subtypes, each of which has its own organizational conventions; and finally argument intends to convince by providing reasons and evidence and takes on the form of what is called a case structure.
The divisions of writing into the modes of discourse is useful when talking about writing; however, in practice, the four modes are not found in a discreet and pure state. For example, story telling requires description and description often involves comparison and contrast, which is a kind of exposition, and the entire narrative may have the purpose of illustrating a belief held by the writer which makes it a kind of evidence to support an argument. For more information click here.
NARRATIVE ESSAY – A narrative essay is a type of informal essay that contains a strong narrative element, giving it a chronological structure. Thus, a narrative essay may tell a story, but the essay itself should not be referred to as a story. It differs in at least two respects. First, the term "story" usually implies a fictional creation, and a narrative essay relates actual events as experienced by or reported by the writer. Second, rather than being an end in itself, the story in a narrative essay provides an illustration for a point the writer wishes to make, and the essay includes the writer's explicit comments about the events and their meaning. Thus, the purpose of entertainment is balanced by, and sometimes subordinated to, the purpose of exposition or argument.
It is not just in narrative essays where the story being told may be subordinated to a point the author wants to make. Short stories and novels may have intrusive narrators who interject comments, expound theories, or point out lessons to the extent that the story becomes subordinate to his didactic or polemic purpose.
OPINION -- A personal viewpoint or belief. It may or may not be true. Opinions vary widely on a given subject by different people. An opinion portrays how a person feels about a subject or situation. Judges issue opinions and if all judges do not agree, there may be a dissenting opinion. An opinion can be expressed in a few words, or it can ramble on. One that is obstinate in holding to an opinion is said to be opinionated.
ORGANIZING SENTENCE -- When the sole function of a sentence is to indicate the main points to be covered in a text and the order in which they will be discussed, it is called an organizing sentence. i In a text with an organizing sentence, the main idea or thesis will be stated in a separate sentence. However, the more usual case is for one sentence to both state the writer's main idea or thesis and to indicate the points he will cover. Click here for examples of this latter type of sentence.
PARAGRAPH -- A paragraph is a portion of text, usually small, used to isolate a thought. It usually contains several sentences. A new paragraph marks a change of focus, a change of time, a change of place or a change of speaker in a passage of dialogue. A new paragraph begins on a new line and is either indented, or has a space above it. The use of paragraphs makes the text easier to read and understand.
PARALLELISM -- Parallel means side by side, an equal distance apart at all points. When applied to grammar, it means that two or more coordinate sentence elements are expressed in the same way. The value of grammatical parallelism is that it emphasizes the logical relations between coordinate ideas. In the simplest case, parallelism exists between two words that are connected by a coordinating conjunction. However, it is not just single words that may be made coordinate but phrases and clauses as well. Click here for examples and further discussion. For examples of logical parallelism among sentences in paragraphs, click here.
PATTERNS OF DEVELOPMENT --
PREMISE – A premise is a statement that serves as the basis for an argument and from which you can draw conclusions. It is derived form a Latin word, "praemittere," which means “to set in front.” Thus, a premise is the idea that is “set in front” or stated at the beginning of an argument and from which other ideas can be inferred. In an argumentative essay, your thesis will be your major premise.
POINT OF VIEW-- Point of view is first of all a matter of grammar. Handbooks warn writers to avoid needless shifts in tense, mood, voice, or person. When applied to literature, point of view signals a concern with the perspective from which a story is being told, and the term narrative perspective is used. But the narrative perspective is first of all determined by the grammatical person the author employs. A writer may choose to tell a story from the first person point of view using the pronouns "I" and sometimes "we," or the third person using the pronouns, "he," "she," "it," and "they." If the narrator addresses a listener within the story, the second person pronoun "you" may occur, although the point of view would still be first person.
There are four narrative perspectives:
POLEMIC-- A controversial argument, especially one refuting or attacking a specific opinion or doctrine. The art or practice of argumentation or controversy. In one specific sense, it is the branch of Christian theology devoted to the refutation of errors.
PREVIEW -- In a movie theater, you are subjected to previews of coming attractions, usually consisting of a series of quick action shots designed to peak your interest and to give you a general impression of the new films. Thus, in a preview, you literally get to see before hand what is coming. A thesis statement for an essay may also contain a preview. In this case, the preview will indicate the main points to be covered in the body of the essay. The points indicated in the thesis will be designated by Roman numerals in the outline and will be explicit in topic sentences in the body of the essay. A preview aids comprehension because it lets the reader predict the kind of information he can expect in each part of the essay. Here are examples of thesis statements that preview the main points the essay will cover.
PROPOSITION – This is a technical term used by linguists. A proposition is a two-part statement; it has a subject and predicate. The simplest proposition is a simple sentence such “John ran,” or “Mary laughed.” However, beyond this level of simplicity, you cannot equate a proposition with a sentence because a single sentence may contain a number of propositions. Linguists have devised different methods for identifying and representing the propositions in sentences. One of these was developed by James Deese of the University of Virginia and is called “dependency analysis.”
PURPOSE – Why something is done. Purpose is a motivation or reason for acting. In an essay, purpose must be distinguished from both topic and main idea. The topic is the thing you are talking about, and your main idea is what you want to say about the topic. The purpose involves why you are writing about the topic and why you are saying what you say. It concerns the effect you want to achieve. The motivations in writing parallel the motivations for many other actions in life. For example, you may want to please, entertain, plead, intimidate, warn, teach, convince, seduce, frighten, comfort, support, deceive, malign, confess, or explain.No entries for Q.
SPECIFIC -- The opposite of general. Specific means particular, clear, unambiguous. Something that is specific is singled out from a more general category and represents an example or a subset of that category. For example, the word "cars" is a general term for a whole group, whereas "Ford" specifies one member of that group. Ford Thunderbird is more specific still, and a red 1967 Ford Thunderbird is the most specific of all these. Here, "cars" is called the general term; however, if you began with the category of transportation and then narrow it to ground transportation, and then to motor vehicles, the term "cars" becomes a specific example of one sort of ground transportation. Thus, a word is judged general or specific in relation to other words.
STORY – A story is a narrative meaning that it relates a sequence of events. A narrative may be a simple telling of events in chronological order, as in a newspaper story, or it may select and present the events to emphasize causal relationships. When this is done, the narrative is said to have a plot. A plot typically has an identifiable beginning (Once upon a time), a middle, (this happened, and next this happened) and an end (And they lived happily ever after). A story may be true (the events really happened, or it may be a work of fiction (the events and the people are imaginary, having been created by the author). There is also historical fiction in which a writer tells a story about real or imagined characters using actual historical events as a background. A story is different from an essay, although an essay may have a narrative component.
STRUCTURE -- A structure is a an arrangement of elements that allows for the imposition of meaning. The opposite of structure is chaos. Structure and chaos are antithetical poles on a continuum, and there are good and less good structures. It might be argued that there is nothing but structure in the universe, but that humans cannot perceive it because of their limited understanding; only the omniscient God sees the big picture. But pragmatically, if we cannot see some arrangement in a collection of things, then the aggregate is meaningless; it is just a heap or jumble.
The human mind is a reservoir of images, memories, and fragments that without the control of consciousness are chaotic. This is evident in dreams where the executive functions are in abeyance and the random connections among the brain cells are freewheeling, giving us the improbable associations that characterize dreams. Language is one of the tools of consciousness that controls and organizes the mind's reservoir.
Language has structure and the structure is derived from rules. Grammars describe the elements that make up a language and define the rules by which they combine to form structures such as sentences. But there is structure of language beyond the sentence level; any collection of sentences on a topic (a discourse)has a structure too. The basic structure of language, whether it be at the sentence level or beyond, is a hierarchy. James Deese asserts that "all discourse tends toward a strong hierarchy."
SYMBOL -- A symbol is an object or action that exists as a unique and real thing but which also represents something else. For example, a rose represents love and a lion strength and ferocity. A bow represents obeisance and a salute respect. As these examples show, the thing represented is an abstract idea. In literature, symbols are a primary tool for writers to imply meaning. Associating a person or place with an object or action is an effective and often subtle way to establish character and mood or to convey theme.
Conventional symbols, such as those noted above, work by calling to mind common associations. On the other hand, writers will sometimes create symbols which are unique to the context of a particular literary work. In this case, the reader's awareness of a symbol and its meaning may emerge gradually through repeated presentations. Moreover, some writers may expand or transform the meaning of a symbol in the course of a story. Multiple possibilities for interpretation make the meaning ambiguous and so convey the complexities associated with the theme. Perhaps the best known example of this is given by Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter. For more discussion of symbols, click here.
TEXT -- A text is a physical object, a page or pages of written language either mechanically or manually produced. It may be a transcription of oral language, and more recently, the display of written language on a computer screen. It is a written document that is the subject of discussion or analysis. It may be an original artifact, as for example, one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, or a facsimile of an original. A text usually represents a discourse, although it may be a list of disassociated sentences. The generality of the term makes it useful when you want to refer to some specific example of writing, but do not feel the need to indicate the subject, mode of discourse, means of production, or any other particularity.
TEXT GRAMMAR -- Text grammars are tools devised by linguists and psychologists to analyize and represent the content of texts beyond the level of a single sentence. Linguistic text grammars analyze sentences into their basic propositions and then show how the propostions are related to one another and to the propositions in other sentences through the identity of concepts. While psychological text grammars also represent the meaning of a text by an analysis of its basic units of meaning and their intrasentence relations, they attempt to represent this meaning as it might be structured in the mind of a reader or hearer. For more about text grammars click here.
THESIS – In its original and narrow sense, a thesis is a proposition to be defended. It is a statement of opinion that a writer defends in an argumentative essay. The word also refers to the written argument itself. However, more recently, the term “thesis” is also used to refer to the main idea in expository essays. A good thesis statement for an argument has the following characteristics:
TOPIC – The topic of an essay is what the essay is about. It is the subject of the writing. The number of potential topics is unlimited. An essay may be about cars, trees, girlfriends, a job, grass seed, the president, chainsaws, art prints, cookies, magic tricks, or Kleenex. In choosing a topic, make it narrow enough so that you can adequately cover it within the word and time constraints of the assignment. It would be harder to write about all cars then just Ford Mustangs. This topic might be limited further to a particular year or model.
Note: The topic of an essay is not the same thing as the thesis or main idea. The thesis or main idea is a statement about the topic. It is what you want the reader to understand and remember after he has read your essay.
For example: “The Ford Mustang was a muscle car in the nineteen seventies.” The topic is the Ford Mustang, but the main idea is that it was a muscle car. Or, “The Ford Mustang evolved from the Ford economy cars of the early nineteen sixties.” Again, the topic is the Ford Mustang, but the main idea focuses on the origins of the car.
TOPIC SENTENCE -- A topic sentence bears the same relationship to a paragraph that a main idea sentence bears to an essay as a whole. Therefore, its functions are in most cases the same. First of all, it must announce the topic of the paragraph. The topic sentence acts like a billboard to let the reader know what the paragraph is going to be about. It will have a key word that names the subject.
A second function is to give the reader an indication of how the writer will deal with the topic, whether it be by definition, comparison, examplification, analysis, argument, or in some other way.
A topic sentence will frequently pose an assertion which prompts the reader to ask, "Why do you say that? What are your reasons? What is your proof? Explain what you mean. Give me an example." This is the case not just in argument where the writer is trying to convince the reader to accept a point of view, or in persuasion where he is trying to get the reader to pursue a course of action; it is also common in exposition where the writer presents ideas that are novel or difficult, and the reader expects him to give facts and reasons to explain what he means.
At times a topic sentence may also make a transition from the preceding paragraph to the new one. When the topic sentence performs this function, it uses a transitional word or phrase, points back to the preceding paragraph by the repetition of a key term, and then points forward to the new paragraph by introducing a word or phrase that identifies the new subject.
Like the main idea sentence of an essay which may give a preview of the content by listing the subjects to be covered, a topic sentence may list the subtopics of the paragraph, or at least alert the reader as to how many subtopics there are. And a topic sentence that introduces a new term may also define that term.
A topic sentence most often appears at or near the beginning of a paragraph. This is the general practice in exposition where the primary concern is to convey information in a clear and efficient manner. Here, the billboard function of the topic sentence is paramount. Placing the topic sentence near the beginning gives the paragraph a deductive organization that aids comprehension by alerting the reader as to what he can expect to learn.
However, topic sentences can sometimes be placed at the end of paragraphs to good effect. When the topic sentence comes near the end, the paragraph has inductive organization. This is a common when the paragraph provides examples of a phenomenon or involves an analysis. The topic sentence at the end may state a conclusion drawn from the examples presented or from the line of reasoning laid out. Inductive organization is also found in some types of narrative, as for example in fables, where the main idea at the end gives explicit expression to the point that the writer wants the reader to remember.
Sometimes, especially in academic writing, a topic sentence becomes a "topic paragraph." This is often the case when a text book heading is followed by a short paragraph that names the subtopics that will be introduced in that section. Thus, the paragraph previews the information by listing it in the order in which it will be covered. Examples of various types of topic sentences can be seen here.
UNITY -- The word "unity" comes from the Latin "uni--" which means one. "Unanimous" and "universe" are two other common derivatives. An oral or written discourse has unity when all the parts are related to a single purpose, idea, or effect. For example, Aristotle said that unity of plot was essential for tragedy. Edgar Allen Poe asserted that a poem or short story should be unified by a single effect. In a biography or autobiography, the focus on a single life gives unity. A lyric poem achieves unity by the development of a single dominate emotion. Other literary works can create unity by means of theme, symbolism, form, or intent. When applied to exposition, unity means that there is one topic with one main idea about the topic, and all the information in the discourse is related to this one idea. In deductive organization, the topic is made explicit in a main idea sentence placed near the beginning. Each paragraph within the discourse will also have a topic sentence that provides a focus for the sentences in the paragraph. Click here for further discussion.
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