Orienting: Introduction

If you don’t provide readers with enough contextualizing information, then you won’t be able to persuade them that your claims are valid. Indeed, this is true even if you do an excellent job choosing the right evidence and analyzing it thoroughly. This is because readers need a range of relevant information in order to follow your analysis of that evidence. If readers can’t follow your analysis, then they can’t be persuaded by it. This set of revision strategies focuses on the work of providing readers with the necessary context. We call this process “Orienting.”

Consider, by way of example, that a person is only able to follow a map to a specific location if they are oriented in ways that enable them to interpret the map correctly. Among other things, they need to know which way is north, the meaning of things like different colors and of solid vs. dotted lines, and the scale of distance being represented. Without this kind of orienting information, a person would not be able to understand and follow the map. Similarly, readers need to be oriented in order to follow an academic Argument. Depending on the claim being advanced, they may not be able to understand the validating force of your evidence and analysis without first being helped to understand the circumstances leading up to something, the quick rehearsal of another scholar’s theory, or the meaning of a term, to name just a few possibilities.

Orienting your reader can be challenging because it requires a great deal of judgment. On the one hand, you have to provide your reader with enough background information to follow your argument. On the other, if you fill your piece with too much background information, your reader will once again have a hard time keeping track of your claims and their supporting analysis. It can be challenging to strike the right balance. Doing so tends to happen during the revision process, when writers can review their own work and can benefit from having other people read and respond to it. In this collection of revision strategies, we offer a range of diagnostic tools that can help you evaluate your draft’s approach to orienting the reader.