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Organizing Whole Compositions

A well-organized composition is not a random collection of paragraphs; it is a unit constructed of definite parts assembled in a logical order to perform specific functions.  Most compositions ––whether themes, letters, memoranda, reports, or books –– should have three clearly defined parts in a specific order: an INTRODUCTION, a BODY, and a CONCLUSION.


Every good introduction should perform one or both of the following functions:
Catch the attention of the reader.
Contain the thesis statement.

Catching Attention.  If the subject of a composition is of interest to the reader, no attention-getting device is needed.  The subject alone is enough to make him or her read on.  But where there is no such interest, an attention-catching device may be essential. 

An attention-getter can do the following:

Ask a question: 
How long will you live?

Make a startling statement: 
All that goes up is no longer sure to come down.

Tell a related story:
At the eleventh chime of the city clock, my throat constricted.

Attention-getters should not only "grab" the reader; they should also direct the composition toward the thesis.  The question How long will you live? might be used, for instance, to introduce a thesis on aging in America.   Similarly, All that goes up is no longer sure to come down might be appropriate for a thesis about spacecraft.  In general, the introduction should consist of three or four sentences before the thesis.  The thesis is usually the last sentence in the introductory paragraph.

The Thesis.  The thesis itself serves two functions:   

The thesis organizes the main topics in logical order so that the reader can tell what the composition is about.  Thus, it provides a map for the reader while controlling the logic and scope of the composition.


The body of a composition should explain and expand, through examples, the thesis of the composition.  This function is performed by standard paragraphs, each of which has a topic sentence, transitions, and developing sentences that present concrete evidence.  Generally, body paragraphs should contain at least four or five sentences, each of which is logically related to and builds on the topic sentence.  Remember that each topic sentence must be related to the thesis.  The specific organization of your body paragraphs will depend on the assignment.


The conclusion may perform one or more of four functions: summarize the major topics;  emphasize one or more major topics;  give the results of a chain of reasoning;  stimulate the reader to act.

The SUMMARIZING CONCLUSION reviews all the major topics discussed in the body of the work.  In a few words, it reminds the reader of what has been covered.  Not every composition need conclude with a summary.  A summary of a very short composition may insult the reader's intelligence.  But, as length increases, so does the usefulness of a summarizing conclusion.

An EMPHASIZING CONCLUSION does not repeat ALL the main topics but selects a few of the most important ones and repeats them as vividly as possible.

The RESULTING CONCLUSION is most appropriate in a work built upon a chain of reasoning, such as an argumentative or persuasive composition.  A resulting conclusion often begins with a logical transition, such as THEREFORE or CONSEQUENTLY.

The STIMULATING CONCLUSION is intended to stir the reader to do something:  paint the house, buy a product, confess a sin, and so on.  It is often characterized by an emotional appeal, a call to action.

A conclusion may combine several of these methods.  For example, it may be stimulating, summarizing, and emphasizing.  No matter which method is used, all compositions require a conclusion; they should not merely stop.

Most important, the elements of a composition should give the work a sense of unity and completion.  Unity depends on good planning, logical organization, and ¾ simply put ¾ a clear beginning, middle, and end.