Making Connections between Sections of your Argument: Road Maps and Signposts

Making Connections between Sections of your Argument


You are driving from a small town outside Boston to San Francisco. It's a long, somewhat complicated trip, especially because you'd like to visit your friend in New York and stop at a few tourist attractions throughout the country. You want to make good time--a smooth, error-free trip.

You need a road map of the US so you don't get lost. You'll probably want to highlight your route on the map so that you can get a "big picture" of your whole trip, all the twists and turns.

But, it is still fairly easy to get lost--you're on a busy freeway, people are driving quickly, and you miss your turn because your exit was poorly marked. It is great to have a big picture of your trip, but if there are no signposts(road signs) along the way, you'll encounter quite a bit of difficulty navigating the roads, the individual twists and turns, even the major freeway exchanges.


Fine, but how does all this relate to writing? Put your reader in the driver's seat.

It is your job to help the reader get "the big picture" of your argument--how it will develop or unfold, what different sections your argument will have (one section per major point), all its twists and turns. To achieve this big picture, you will need to provide a road map of your overall argument, usually toward the beginning of the paper right after you announce what the main point is that you will argue in the paper or report (thesis/hypothesis). Some writers refer to this set of sentences as the "plan of attack," but I prefer to equate skillful writing with skillful driving, not an act of war...

Now, it would be cruel to send your reader off with this map and not post any road signs throughout your paper. How can you be sure your reader will anticipate curves and turns? You don't want your reader cruising along and then come screeching to a halt in the middle of the road because your argument is shifting lanes to the right and the reader's in the left lane driving right past the exit which takes him to your next point. The reader expects and thus needs signposts. You need to include headings or transitional sentences between major sections of your paper or report to cue your reader that you have finished one section and are moving on to another. And, to help the reader keep a constant speed throughout your paper, with no screeching halts, you'll want to include smaller signs within sections--transitional words, phrases, or sentences between paragraphs to show how the next paragraph builds on the previous one.

When reading over your draft, ask yourself, "where have I given my reader a map to my essay, and where have I helped my reader to follow that map?"

See samples below and drive, I mean write, smoothly.

A sample plan of attack

This paper summarizes the issues involved in implementing alternative assessment. The authors list issues that arise in three major educational settings, categorize them, and address each from the perspective of teachers, learners, and administrators. The paper ends with potential plans of action based on the analysis of alternative assessment use in different teaching contexts.

A sample between-sections transition

The Illusion: Luck and the Lottery

The state focuses nearly all its publicity effort on merchandising a get-rich-quick fantasy, one that will come true for only a handful of people, while encouraging millions of others to think of success as a product of luck, not honest work.

-----Several paragraphs of evidence and analysis of this position-----




The following header and sentence set up a contrasting view for the next section of the paper:

Lottery Loot: Inner City Schools and Infrastructure

While the shortcomings of the state lottery system are numerous, there are sound arguments for allowing state lotteries to continue and spread....

A sample between-paragraphs transition

. . . as seen in such puns as "mint," "Angell," and "plate" (Taylor 390). These puns express not only Taylor's desire to get to Heaven ("let me Thy Angell bee"), but also his sense of the great value of being remade or reborn--of being re"minted" by God. He wants to be the heavenly equivalent of earthly money, heaven's wealth and riches. We see then in these examples from "Meditation 6" and "Meditation 8" that Taylor's metaphors often take earthly, material values that the Puritans eschew and turn these "profane" values to a "sacred" purpose.

Not only do Taylor's metaphors turn conventional Puritan values upside down, but so do his puns. Taylor uses puns to . . .

At the end of a paragraph about Taylor's use of metaphors, the writing does not end with the final examples, but summarize and synthesizes the point of the paragraph. The next paragraph repeats the point and then states a new topic sentence.

Margi Wald

Student Learning Center, University of California, Berkeley

©2000 UC Regents

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.