Relational Terms and Failures of Logical Reasoning Obscuring Clarity? Positive and Negative Value Assignments

This entry focuses on making sure that you are clearly communicating the relationship between two things in a sentence or between sentences (and occasionally paragraphs). Specifically, this entry focuses on the use of relational terms: that is, terms that establish logically dependent relationships between words, clauses, sentences, and/or whole paragraphs. Readers depend on relational terms for guidance whenever a writer moves from talking about one thing to talking about another thing that is in some way related. Without the guidance of a relational term, readers will likely sense that the new thing is linked to a previous thing, but they may not be able to figure out the precise nature of that link. Is the new thing supporting the same point as the old thing? Does it complicate the point that was just being made? If readers can’t figure out the relationship, they won’t follow your analysis the way you want them to.

Often, relational terms create logical relationships between the bits of text they connect, and readers rely heavily on these phrases to follow the steps of your analysis. Consequently, using relational terms that don’t align with your actual meaning can cause readers to seriously misunderstand you. Relational term related logical failures are some of the most frequent mistakes writers make in the early drafting phase, and they can be the result of both mechanical and analytical errors. Sometimes, the problem isn’t that you haven’t included a relational term, but rather than you’ve included the wrong one. Perhaps you chose a relational term that signals as supporting relationship when you actually meant to signal a complicating relationship. Or perhaps you used a relational term that is right in a general sense but is misleading in the nuances of meaning it conveys. Luckily, these kinds of mistakes are fairly easy to catch and fix in the revision process, and the result is that you improve the Clarity, Grammar, and Usage of your text and produce a more impactful final draft.

Here we encourage you to break down your use of relational terms as a kind of logic puzzle. This is a labor of love. This exercise takes time, but we believe this strategy is well worth the effort. Relational term usage can be deceptively complex. Ideally, following the steps suggested below will help you become more mindful of your use of relational terms as you write, leading to fewer mistakes of this kind  in the future.

Note: Each relational term creates a unique logical relationship specific to the meaning of the relation term and the words/clauses/sentences (the variables) linked by the relational term. The specificity of the logical relationship engendered by the relational term and its variables makes this revision strategy particularly hard to parse. What follows is a general strategy for a rather site specific problem.

Step 1: Read through the piece of writing you want to work on and identify each moment of transition—a moment in which you move from talking about one thing to talking about another, related thing. Look especially for shifts that fall into one of the three categories included below in the list of relational terms (i.e., supporting, complicating, causal).

Step 2: Review each moment of transition and consider whether you are bringing up the new thing in order to say something that is supporting, complicating, or causal in relation to the previous thing.

    • If, in this moment, a relational term is present, then highlight your relational terms—there’s a list of relational terms and their value assignment (positive or negative) provided below—and assign either a positive or negative value to the relational term you highlighted.

Step 3: If a relation term is absent from the moment of transition, then take a moment to review the relevant list of relational terms offered below to consider which one might capture the right nuances of meaning for your purposes.

    • If a relational term is present in the moment of transition you identify, then mark—i.e., underline, bold, color, etc.—the word phrases, clauses, or sentences your relational term unites.

Step 4: Unpack the logic puzzle. Ask yourself:

    • Ignoring the relational term, do the discrete bits of text support/agree with/contrast/conflict/result in each other? The point here is to determine whether the current relational term is even communicating the right value, so ignore the current term you’re using and consider the larger context of what you’re trying to say.
    • What is the logical relationship of my word phrases, clauses, or sentences? Do my word phrases, clauses, or sentences positively or negatively relate to one another? Does my highlighted relational term have a positive or negative value? Does the value of the relationship between my word phrases, clauses, or sentences and my relational term align?
    • Finally, am I using the right relational term? Does the word or phrase I employ most closely convey my intended meaning? Each term in the categories listed below conveys a particular meaning that creates a nuanced logical relationship conjoined by the relational term. Ultimately, this exercise becomes a practice of mindfulness.

Let’s look at a few examples:

EXAMPLE 1—positive value clauses linked by a negative value Relational Term (arguably, the most common Relational Term usage logical failure).

  1. Despite his prominent position in African American art history, Aaron Douglas is more often relativized in anthologies of African diasporic art and Harlem Renaissance culture.

Here we have a moment of dissonance between the first and second clause of the sentence. Let’s code this sentence . . .

1(a). Despite his prominent position in African American art history, Aaron Douglas is more often relativized in anthologies of African diasporic art and Harlem Renaissance culture.

The despite primes us to think that the second clause will, in some way, challenge the meaning carried by the first clause. But aren’t prominent artists often included in anthologies? How does being included in an anthology in some way challenge/differ/contradict from the artist’s popularity? This is a kind of failure of the sentence’s underlying cause-and-effect logical relationship. This error was caused by a lack of information. Here’s what the text looks like once the author amended the Relational Term logical reasoning failure.

1(b). Despite his prominent position in African American art history, Aaron Douglas has yet to be the subject of a manuscript length ethnography. Historically, his work has been relegated to cursory treatments in anthologies of African diasporic art and Harlem Renaissance culture.

EXAMPLE 2—negative value clauses linked by positive value Relational Term.

  1. We needed a place to concentrate, so we packed up our things and went to the park.

Here, again, the reality of the sentence’s logic fails to meet with our expectation.

2(a). We needed a quiet place to meet for our writing consultation, so we packed up our texts and went to Central Park.

The “so” creates a positive logical relationship between the sentence’s negative value clauses. The need to concentrate instigates a move from the subjects’ current location to a more work friendly venue—the park. Many of use would not consider a public park an ideal locale for a writing consultation. Here, the reader needs more information to make sense of the logical relationship between finding a quiet place to work and Central Park or the author could simply change the locale of their subjects’ rendezvous.

2(b). On a sleepy Tuesday afternoon, we needed a quiet place to meet for our writing consultation, so we packed up our texts and went to a secluded grassy knoll in Central Park.

or

We needed a quiet place to meet for our writing consultation, so we packed up our texts and went to the library.

 

COMMON RELATIONAL TERMS THAT HAVE A POSITIVE/NEGATIVE VALUE

SUPPORTING RELATIONAL TERMS

Indicate to the reader that you’re adding an idea that’s similar to the previous one. In our Revision Guide, Additives have a POSITIVE value. Often, additives present the reader with examples or new information.

Here are a bunch of examples:

Actually                                           Indeed                                             Much less

Additionally                                  In addition                                      Namely

Also                                                  In all honesty                                 Notably

Alternatively                                 Including                                        Not only

And                                                   In fact                                               Not to mention

As a matter of fact                     In other words                              Particularly

As well as                                      In regard to                                     Regarding

Besides                                          In the first place                            Similarly

Considering                                  Let alone                                         Specifically

Either                                               Like                                                   Such as

Equally                                            Likewise                                          Too

Especially                                      In the same way                           To say nothing of

For example                                 Moreover                                       What’s more

For instance                                  More precisely

Further                                           Furthermore

 

COMPLICATING RELATIONAL TERMS

Adversative Relational Terms show contrast, contradiction, conflict, concession, or dismissal. At the very least, the indicate a level of dissonance between the word phrases, clauses, and/or sentences they conjoin. Often, we use them to present information that disagrees with the previous word phrase, clause, or sentence.

In our Revision Guide, Adversatives have a NEGATIVE value.

Here are a few examples:

Although                                         Even so                                           Notwithstanding

And still                                           Granted                                           On the other hand

And yet                                            However                                         Regardless

But                                                    In contrast                                      Though

But even so                                   In spite of                                        Whatever happens

Conversely                                    Instead                                            Whereas

Despite                                          Nevertheless                                  While

Either way                                    Nonetheless

CAUSAL RELATIONAL TERMS

Causal relations are cause-and-effect transitions. Causals convey consequence, purpose, or condition.

In our Revision Guide, Causals have a POSITIVE value.

See below for a bunch of examples:

Accordingly                                     Hence                                             So much (so) that

And so                                               If so                                                 So that

As a result                                       In case                                            That being the case

As a consequence                       In consequence                          Then

As long as                                       In that case                                   Therefore

Because (of this)                         On the condition (that)             Thus

Being that                                      Owing to                                         To ensure that

Consequently                               Provided/providing that          Under those circumstances

Due to                                              Since                                                Unless

For this reason                             So                                                      With this in mind

Given that                                      So long as                                      With this intention

Granting (that)

 

For more on sentence-level clarity issues try: “Struggling With Tenses? Consider Their Purpose” and “Clarity Issues? Try this Pronoun and Pointing Term Review.”

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