When it comes to learning, I am an incredibly visual person. If a professor or a friend tries to explain something to me in words, it can be difficult for me to grasp the concept right away. But as soon as a chart, graph, or table is introduced, it becomes infinitely clearer to me what we’re talking about. This works even if you ask me to visualize something on my own — as long as there is some sort of picture in my head, I can relate the information I am processing with that picture and come that much closer to understanding the concept.
In my time as a writing consultant, I’ve found that this method of visualization helps many students. When I try to explain a grammatical concept or a writing skill, theoretical and generic language can be difficult to understand, so I’ve taken to using analogies to clarify these concepts. For the most part, these analogies (though sometimes a bit silly) have been very beneficial to students who come to the writing center, so I decided to share some of my favorites here in hopes that it will help others with their writing experience.
The Frame Analogy. I have used this mostly to explain introductions, but it can also apply to conclusions. I tell students to think of their body paragraphs as a painting, as the thing they want their audience to focus on. Once that canvas has been painted, it needs something to anchor and protect it, which is where the “frame,” or introduction/conclusion, comes into play. In an essay, the introduction establishes the topic as well as the main idea, and the conclusion brings all of the essay’s elements together to summarize that main idea. Just like a frame sets the borders of a painting, the introduction and conclusion provide parameters for the essay. They help the reader know what to expect the beginning as well as what to take away from the essay, but they also help the writer stay on topic and make sure that he or she can connect their points to their thesis. Also, I will often advise students to wait until they have finished their essay to craft their introduction/conclusion. In terms of an introduction, this may seem a little backwards, but consider this: you wouldn’t frame a canvas before you have even started painting, would you? Sometimes, you have to create your piece in order to determine the best frame for it.
The Teaser Trailer Analogy. This refers specifically to introductions. When I craft an introduction, I ask myself, “Does this paragraph give my audience a preview to my argument? If someone was to only read my introduction, would they have a sufficient idea of where my argument was headed?” This is why I refer to the introduction as a teaser trailer. With movies, the teaser trailer is often a series of snapshots for the film. It’s not the full trailer that they show in theaters, which often gives so much of the plot away that I feel like I don’t even need to watch the film anymore; I already know what happens! Teaser trailers are different, however. Just like the name suggests, they tease. They entice the audience by hinting at the plot-line, but they don’t lay it all out right away. That is exactly the function of an introductory paragraph: to set up an argument or thesis statement so that the audience has an idea of what’s coming, but also to leave the audience with questions so that they are inspired to read on.
The Bracelet Analogy. This focuses on the overall structure of an essay, and the importance of body paragraphs working together to create a larger argument. When speaking of an essay as a whole, I tell students to think of it as a bracelet made of beads. Each individual paragraph represents a bead: it has its own identity, but it is part of a larger structure. Body paragraphs are like the mini-arguments of a larger conversation (i.e. the essay). This means that each paragraph should cover a single concept, but that single concept must somehow tie back to the main idea of the essay. Even though each bead has its own function and purpose, the bracelet falls apart if there is no connecting thread. The essay’s main idea represents this thread, which ties all of the “beads”, or paragraphs, together in the end. With this analogy, students understand essay structure a lot better; they realize that the paragraphs must all build upon each other to construct their larger argument, and that realization can help them determine whether an individual paragraph truly supports their thesis or not.
Perhaps the most wonderful part about these analogies is that I can tweak it to best serve each individual. For example, during the session where I first used the bracelet analogy, we also talked about using colorful adjectives to describe experiences rather than the generic “good” or “nice.” I related these kinds of simple words to the beads by saying that by using them, the paragraphs could be considered plastic beads: still functional, but perhaps not as eye-catching as, say, crystal beads. By replacing the word “nice” with something more specific, like “kind” or “motherly,” the beads would become more appealing and therefore create a more intricate bracelet.
So there you have it: three analogies that bring writing skills out of the abstract and relate them to something more concrete. If you’re a visual person like me, these analogies can simplify your writing process and perhaps even make it enjoyable! I invite you all to go forth and build your own frames, cut your own trailers, and craft your own bracelets. And if you run into trouble, bring your work to the writing center, and we can create something functional (and beautiful!) together.