Introduction: Mixing the Patterns

This section, called Patterns of Composition, is divided into various rhetorical modes of development: narrative, process, evaluation, definition, cause and effect, comparison-contrast, examples, analysis, and argument. A description of each writing strategy is provided, suggestions and warnings are made specific to that strategy, and at least one example is given, usually a full-length essay by a community college student (although some work by professional writers is being added as we gather permission to do so).

Although many textbooks in composition break down a semester's work into these or similar categories, it would be folly to think that these patterns exist as permanently discrete strategies. There is no reason for writers, even beginning writers, to limit themselves to one particular strategy as they begin to explore an idea. And it is downright peculiar to start with a strategy and try to force an essay to conform to that strategy, even as the material seems to call out for another treatment. Nonetheless, there is a great deal to be said for writers to be cognizant of strategic possibilities as they struggle with the task of making a topic come to life on the page.

Writing strategies can be so mixed, hybrids can be so creatively designed, that only DNA testing would reveal their true parenthood. Make sure you read John Friedlander's Organizing Principles before entering a study of these strategies. See, also, the discussion under Developing a Definition about defining Total Quality Management in various ways within the same essay. The essay that concludes that section, "What is a Yankee," uses both comparison-contrast and elements of the personal essay to make its point. The more complex the writer's argument, the more various can be the rhetorical approaches even within the essay.

Experimenting with various strategies and trying one's hand at all of them is important to the developing writer. Organizing principles that seem inherent to the practiced writer are not necessarily intuitive. Only practice makes them so. If you, as a user of this online guide, are aware of public domain essays (by students or professional writers) that would be useful examples of these various strategies, please let us know where we can find them (and how to get permission to use them), using either the ASK GRAMMAR form or an e-mail form.