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IN the preceding pages we have devoted our attention exclusively to the consideration of some of the more general and fundamental principles of composition, but have not taken into account the fact that compositions differ in kind. The beginner, however, will already have observed that not all compositions should be treated alike, that certain subjects demand one general method of treatment, and certain others, a quite different one.

In general, we may say that the object of all writing is to appeal either to the understanding or to the feelings. In a great many cases, it is true, both the understanding and the feelings are affected; but for the most part we recognize one or the other as the predominant object of appeal. A Huxley, in expounding the principles of biology, may, by the precision and lucidity of his style, give his readers pleasure as well as information; but his chief aim will obviously be to enlighten rather than to please. A Dickens, again, in picturing for us a bit of an imaginary world, may at times give us facts that he would have us remember; still, on the whole, he will feel that his main end is accomplished if he has been able to make us take pleasure in his picture. Setting aside poetry as beyond the scope of our present interest, we may therefore divide all prose compositions into two great classes: those which appeal mainly to the understanding, and those which appeal mainly to the feelings.

As the great bulk of writings—and those, too, of the simplest and most ordinary kind—are comprised in the first class, we shall do well, perhaps, to begin our consideration of the particular kinds of compositions with them.

Before going further, we have to note that writings which appeal to the understanding may make this appeal in two ways. They may seek either to enlighten the understanding, that is, convey information about certain facts, truths, or principles, or they may try to influence people's beliefs with regard to these facts, truths, or principles. In the first case, we call the writing Exposition; in the second, Argumentation. These two varieties of the literature of thought are not always, of course, sharply defined, since it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between what is meant simply as explanation, and what is meant as an effort to influence belief or opinion. The two varieties shade into one another, as, in fact, all kinds of writing do; but in the majority of cases we shall have little or no trouble in distinguishing between them.



ExPOSITION, as we have seen, is that kind of writing wherein we aim to explain something. Whenever we attempt to make clear what a thing is, rather than what it appears to be, to give its general or essential characteristics, rather than its superficial appearance, or whenever we try to set forth the meaning or significance of a fact, a truth, or a principle, we are making use of exposition. Expounding, in fact, is nothing more nor less than explaining.

Pure exposition is dispassionate. Its aim is not to stir the reader's feelings or influence his beliefs, but solely to make him understand something. It pursues the truth, and nothing but the truth.

The purpose of exposition being elucidation, its first virtue must necessarily be clearness; its second, accuracy. That composition which pretends to explain something, but which does not succeed in making its explanation intelligible to the reader, is, obviously, little better than no explanation at all. As far as the reader is concerned, it might just as well not have been written. For a similar reason, an explanation that is felt to be inaccurate loses much, if not all, of its value. Minute, scientific precision is not, of course, either possible or desirable in all cases; circumstances will have to determine whether a given exposition shall be full and exhaustive, or brief and suggestive merely. But nothing will excuse inaccuracy. An exposition should be exact as far as it goes; and other things being equal, the more precise it is the better.

The importance of clearness as a general principle in writing, and its relation to the question of diction have already been pointed out. It will suffice here, therefore, if we call the beginner's attention to the bearing good arrangement has upon the securing of clearness in exposition. Nowhere, perhaps, is the orderly arrangement of the material so important as in exposition. It is scarcely too much to say, in fact, that half the difficulties in expository composition spring out of the question of getting the topics arranged in their proper order. Once the writer has clearly in mind the topics he wishes to discuss, and has settled upon the order in which he wishes to develop them, he has usually accomplished more than half his task.


The importance of a clear and logical arrangement of the material in exposition being conceded, it remains to consider the best way to secure this. Nothing better than the preparation of an outline in advance can be recommended. The use of some sort of an outline is advisable, to be sure, in the case of almost any kind of writing; but it is especially helpful in exposition.

The outline may be as full or as brief as the writer chooses. A good plan is to make, first, a very brief or skeleton outline, giving only the main topics or headings, and later to enlarge this by filling in with sub-topics wherever necessary. This gives the writer a chance to correct any mistakes of arrangement which he may have made in the first or skeleton outline. Thus, if one were writing on The Carp and its Culture, for example, one might make some such preliminary outline as the following:


I. General characteristics.
II. Its history and varieties.
III. Its habits.
IV. Its adaptability to artificial culture.
V. Localities suitable for its culture.
VI. The method of culture.
VII. The extent of carp culture.

This, if it be regarded as adequate in its provision of main topics, might be enlarged somewhat as follows:


I. General characteristics of the carp. II. Its history and varieties. A. The scale carp. B. The mirror carp. C. The leather carp. III. Its habits. A. Its partiality for stagnant waters. B. Its readiness to take either vegetable or animal food. C. Its mode of reproduction.

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