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Key Features of Subjects and Concepts

Subjects and concepts are particularly diverse, addressing a range of audiences, purposes, and media, and using a variety of methods to generate knowledge, including Internet and library research, and interview, questionnaire, and ethnographic research methods.

Focus

Examine a subject from a rhetorical perspective. Identify the intended audience, purpose, context, media, voice, tone, and persona.
When analyzing and explaining subjects and concepts, you must constantly question what concepts need to be defined, what background information on the subject matter your readers possess, and what terms need to be defined. When possible, use images to explain difficult concepts.

Development

Research can be an extremely important when you are striving to analyze and explain subjects and concepts. Research what others have said about the subject or concept you are analyzing or explaining. See how others have developed their essays to broaden your conception of how to develop yours.

Establish an Appropriate Voice

You may want to adopt the voice or persona of an expert communicating to the less informed. Because you want to keep the spotlight on the information that is being presented, not on yourself as presenter, you will want to "disappear" from the page as much as possible. Generally speaking, the more technical the subject, the less present is the authorial "I."

Consider this example from a paper on plagiarism: The author's focus in this discussion is on plagiarism, so the writer should delete or revise the introductory clause, omitting the information that the writer found this source the Internet:

In another report I read while working checking Internet resources, the author stated the following: "Comprehensive survey's.... during the past decades indicate that student cheating at American Colleges is wide spread...These survey's indicate that approximately 50% of students have copied during an exam....25% have plagiarized....[and] nearly a third have falsified a bibliography" (Cozin 3).

Trade audiences tend to have more informal voices and personas. For example, if you were writing about about instances of plagiarism you've observed as a student, the use of the first person in your essay would work well. In Mary Ann Johnson's article, "The Ebonics Debate: Perspectives and Possibilities," note Johnson's smooth integration of her voice and experience:

This paper represents the second part of a journey I began seven years ago. I sat in a professional development training class for Glossary Linkliteracyliteracy: See information literacy. educators at Lesley College in Cambridge, MA., and challenged my professor. We'd been discussing David Wood's book, How Children Think and Learn, which addresses language learning and the use of dialect by African American students. Until this point I disdained Black English Vernacular (BEV), and what I termed "that kind of talk." My instructor elucidated Wood's insights by informing me that African American dialect was not "inferior" or bungled English. BEV was simply a dialect--something different from standard English. What was she saying? Who was she, a white scholar telling me, a highly educated African American professional that I was ignorant regarding an African American subject ? But that was a mentor's role according to Daloz (1986). That is, in my journey as a literacy educator, she was helping me to become a "competent traveler." I became confused yet stimulated. My beliefs about people who talked "that way" were challenged. [The Ebonics Debate: Perspectives and Possibilties by Mary Ann Johnson]

A few anecdotes and personal references can enliven your reader's interest in the subject, which is particularly important when informing readers about "dry" material.

Even when your communication situation requires you to omit all of the first person references in your document, you still may find it useful to write rough drafts in the first person. The expressive, narrative voice can play an important part in critical thinking, so you should not try to edit it out of existence. Below is the opening paragraph to Melissa Henderson's essay on babies born to cocaine-addicted mothers. Note how Henderson's revision of her freewrite omits the obtrusive "I" references, yet still reflects her horror and anger:

  • First Draft: I was really shocked to learn that 55,000 crack babies were born in 1991. I think the mothers of these babies should be put into jail for their cruelty. It's disgusting to me that these mothers would let their babies suffer so much. I think it's so sad how these babies cry constantly. I'm so horrified by how these babies shake so hard that they rub their limbs raw and bruise their heads. I think it's really terrible that these poor babies can't look in other people's eyes because it's too over whelming for their sensitive nervous systems.
  • Second Draft: Approximately 55,000 crack babies were born last year. The effect of mother's use of crack on fetuses differs. Some mothers' blood pressure reaches such high levels that the placenta tears away from the lining of the uterus, causing a "no-fuss" abortion. Those that survive are often born with underdeveloped intestinal tracts and missing fingers. Crack can also damage the fetus's central nervous system, resulting in babies who avoid contact with others and suffer from such severe tremors that they rub their limbs raw. Given the severity of these symptoms, I think the mothers of these babies should be prosecuted as criminals

Use Visuals

Increasingly, readers are demanding visuals. In fact, some texts are solely visual, such as The Visible Human Project: Planes of Section, which is a digital image of the human body. As graphics programs become easier to use, writers are more inclined to include images and animations.

Organization

Texts addressing subjects and concepts are incredibly diverse. Simply put, there is no one mold, no one single way to organize reports that explain subjects and concepts. Even so, as explored in more detail below, it is common for writers to define the significance of their subject in their introductions and it is common for writers to follow a narrative order. Still other organizational strategies are possible. Increasingly, for example, writers employ a FAQ (frequently asked questions) format to organize thier reports.

Significance

Some subjects and concepts are so important that you don't need to talk about their significance. Other topics, however, may not seem immediately interesting or important. If this is the case, you need to clarify in your introduction the significance of the subject in terms the readers will relate to.

Narrative Order

Occasionally writers will use chronological order to organize a discussion of the subject or concept, perhaps showing how ideas about the matter evolved over time. Following is an excellent example of a text that relies extensively on narrative order.