Given-to-New Order

Given-to-New Order refers to the common practice of organizing the presentation of information based on the readers’ knowledge about the topic. When following a Given-to-New Order, writers move from what the reader already knows to new information.

Given-to-New Order is a stylistic principle that is tied to schema theory.

Key Words: Schema Theory; Deductive Order/Deductive Reasoning

The tenet that writers should move from given to new information is supported by

  • Plato’s theory of recollection, which argued that people obtain knowledge from recollection rather than experience.
  • Schema Theory, a cognitive model of learning that assumes people obtain knowledge by relating new knowledge to past knowledge they’ve already learned.

Schema Theory suggests that people learn and assimilate new information by organizing information into patterns and structures (e.g., genres, paragraph schemas, sentence schemas, deductive order, etc.).

When interpreting texts, people draw on their schemata to understand and further categorize what they read and observe.

[ See Genre for a discussion of schema at the macroscopic level. ]

Francis Christensen, a professor of English, provides a concrete example of how the given to new contract can playout at the sentence level in this excerpt from Jacob Bronowski’s The Common Sense of Science:

  1. The process of learning is essential to our lives.
    • All higher animals seek it deliberately.
      • They are inquisitive and they experiment.
        • An experiment is a sort of harmless trial run of some action which we shall have to make in the real world; and this, whether it is made in the laboratory by scientists or by fox-cubs outside their earth.
          • The scientist experiments and the cub plays; both are learning to correct their errors of judgment in a setting in which errors are not fatal.
            • Perhaps this is what gives them both their air of happiness and freedom in these activities.

Works Cited

Christensen, Francis (1967). Notes Toward a New Rhetoric. NY: Harper & Row.