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How the Language Really Works:
The Fundamentals of Critical Reading and Effective Writing
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Recognizing Parts

Recognizing Relationships

Choices: The Choice of Structure

The third area of choice open to an author, and hence the third area to focus when analyzing and constructing texts, involves structure.

Here we look at two meanings of structure, following the two parts of analysis. The first sense of structure we examine is in the sense of parts coming together to form a larger unit. The second sense is in terms of the relationships between parts.

Recognizing Parts

Analysis makes sense of something by breaking it into parts. Instead of examining a whole all at one time, we examine smaller, more isolated portions.

Consider the following string of letters:

To make sense of the whole, we try to break it into more manageable, and hopefully more meaningful, parts. Initially we might see clusters of letters within the string:
From one perspective, we have grouped similar elements together, X's with adjacent X's and O's with adjacent O's. From another perspective, we have separated the whole into parts, either X's or O's. Either way, we break the whole into parts. Writers use this process when they signal
  • the boundary of words with spaces,
  • the boundaries of sentences with periods,
  • the boundaries of paragraphs with indentation,
  • the boundaries of sections with headings
Readers use this model when they group words within a sentence into phrases or group paragraphs of a text into larger sections.

From another perspective, we can analyze the earlier string as patterns (of X's or O's) running throughout the string.

XX      XX        XX           XXXX        XXX
      OO      OO      OOOO         OOO          OOO
We use this model when examining patterns of content or language usage throughout a portion of a text. In the above example, we recognize that certain elements go together to form parts or patterns. Part and parcel of this action is recognizing how those elements go together—and giving them a name. When we group items we classify them under a common heading. We recognize what they have in common and how they differ from other items. With texts, we talk about kinds of evidence, kinds of language usage, kinds of structure. As we shall see in detail below, much of critical reading depends on not only seeing what the examples are, but what the examples are examples of.

Recognizing Relationships

Forming parts is only the first step in analysis. We must then recognize how the parts are related to each other.

In the discussion here, we are concerned with

  • how words are related to form phrases and sentences
  • how sentences are related to form paragraphs
  • how paragraphs are related to form complete texts , and
  • how patterns of content and language are related to shape the thought of a text as a whole .
The first case, grouping words to find meaning within sentences, involves the study of English grammar (see the Appendix). The remaining cases can be discussed in terms of the same set of relationship categories. The primary relationships of concern throughout our discussion are:
  • elements in a series : a listing of similar items, often in a distinct order, whether in terms of location, size, importance, etc.
  • time order or chronological listing : a series of events in order of occurrence
  • general/specific relationship : examples and generalizations
  • comparison : similarity and/or difference (contrast)
  • logical relationships : reason/conclusion, cause/effect, and conditional relationship between factors
Related Topics
Choices: The Ingredients of Texts

Reading / Writing
Critical Reading
Ways to Read

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