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Gary Bortolotti, Biology Faculty

Structure

Do you have any strategies for structuring a logical argument?

I don't think so; I think [structuring an argument] probably comes a bit naturally to me because I've paid attention to other writers. When I'll just, sort of, do that sometimes is when I'm trying to advise graduate students. I can't really say how it's done, but I'll just say, "Let's just pull out a paper at random," or I'll pull out something I've written, years ago, and I'll say, "Okay, let's look at the first sentence. It says this. Ahh, then the last couple of words of the first sentence set you up for what I'm going to say in the next sentence and then the next one. See how I've talked about all of Biology and then I'm going to talk about a part of Biology, then I'm going to talk about...," and then I get down to birds and then I get down to what I'm talking about, so I'm setting the reader up. I think, often using subheadings is very important in the sciences; not only do we have introduction, methods, [discussion]...results, discussion, [but] within the results or the discussion, we'll have, let's just say, there's sort of one group of ideas. Sometimes it's useful to collate those, so that the reader will know everything they want to know about that subject...is here, and it's easier to talk about it in one little thing, you don't have to worry about joining this one with this idea. In essays, I always tell my students, in classes, "Make sure you have lots of subheadings, so that it's clearly organized." And [using subheadings is] a way to organize it. Right from the beginning, if you're planning on an essay in a class, if you think of just even one big essay... not even...just break it down into subheadings." Well, this topic is about this, this, and this and maybe rearrange it, but that's sort of the core. If you just start writing one big long essay without anything, you'll lose...the structure won't be obvious to you.