Sometimes, background or contextualizing sentences you want to present to your reader becomes disconnected from the Orienting purpose it is serving. At times, it is simply not tied to a claim or wider discussion, which results in the reader being handed information without understanding why they are getting it. By presenting a quotation without context, for example, or putting analysis of your data in a discussion section without first explaining what those data points demonstrate, you run the risk of your reader not understanding how information relates to the core ideas you are presenting, or vice versa. This often occurs because you, the writer, are fully aware of the reason that information is included in your work, but you fail to realize that your audience needs a clearer idea of what purpose that information serves. The case of free-floating information that is not clearly orienting the reader becomes a problem because your reader has to hang on to information for a long time before they reach the relevant claim or Argument for which it serves as necessary context.
In this exercise, you will hunt for “orphan” information, free-floating info that a reader won’t experience as being helpfully orienting but instead as being purposeless and confusing. Then, you will think about how to resolve the problem and better connect your contextual information to the steps in your analysis for which it serves an orienting purpose.
Step 1: Read through your paper and highlight every piece of orienting information you can find. Orienting information includes anything you added to serve as context or background, things you felt your reader needed to know in order to be “up to speed” and able to follow key steps in your analysis. This includes background on past work in a particular area of research, historical context, the definition of a term or concept, etc. If whole paragraphs or clusters of paragraphs are there to serve the same orienting purpose, highlight them as a single unit.
Step 2: Now, one at a time, identify the step in your analysis that made you feel the need to include a given chunk of orienting material. Focus on the claim or assertion you are making that left you wanting to provide your readers with helpful context. Does the orienting information arrive ahead of the claim? If so, your reader won’t know why they are getting that information. In revision, make sure to preview the claim before filling your reader in with the orienting information.
A classic way to incorporate orienting information effectively is to use the “sandwich” model. Begin with a short preview of the claim, then fill your reader in on the background or context they need to know, and finally return to the focus of your claim and follow through on your analysis.
Step 3: If the orienting information arrives AFTER the relevant claim, it can still feel disconnected for your reader if the background you offer goes into too much or unnecessary detail. After all, a sandwich with way too much filling, or with poorly chosen fillings, isn’t very nice to eat. If you get stuck or feel lost while laying out context for multiple paragraphs without returning to the focus of your analysis, see if you can revise your orienting so that it is more summarized and “boiled down.”
This exercise should result in a clarified series of claims and evidence, and a smoother experience for your reader. If you want to further evaluate whether your contextual information is important to include, see our entry on evaluating the level of context in, “Are you providing too much context? 10-minute free write as a tool to help you summarize.”