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Achieving Unity in Technical Writing

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  • 0:01 Unity Definition and Purpose
  • 2:11 Document Unity
  • 4:20 Paragraph Unity
  • 6:12 Structural Unity
  • 7:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Suzanne Sweat

Suzanne has taught 12 years in the NC Public School System and three years at Campbell University. She has a master's degree in English Education.

Keeping a document focused on one subject will help improve your audience's ability to comprehend your message. This video contains strategies to help keep your document unified.

Unity Definition and Purpose

The United States is the birthplace of basketball and recruits the best players in the world to the NBA. So everyone expects the U.S. National Basketball Team to be the best. After the 1992 Dream Team dominated the Olympics, winning by an average of 40 points each game, U.S. basketball seemed invincible.

But in 2004, the U.S. National team lost its opening Olympic game by 19 points. Americans were stunned. How could a team composed of all NBA players lose to a team that only had two players from the NBA? The answer was simple - the players were individual stars who did not work together as a team. Without unity among the players, they couldn't work together to be successful. Individual talent is not enough to compensate for a lack of unity in a team sport.

The same concept of unity applies to our writing as well. Without a unified document, our message is lost. Unity in writing refers to the focus of ideas in sentences and paragraphs that work together to make the document easy to understand. This means that each sentence in a paragraph must be focused on the same topic, and each paragraph must be focused on the same message in order to create consistency.

Unity helps the audience more easily follow the progression of ideas in a document. In school, we're taught that each paragraph will focus on one idea, so as readers, we expect and look for that format when we're reading a document. We know that when a new paragraph begins, we can expect a new topic. Since this is the expectation of our readers, as writers, we must adhere to these guidelines in order to create unity and understanding for our reader.

Unity in writing can be achieved by keeping each paragraph focused on one topic, by keeping all paragraphs focused on one thesis, and by using a similar structure in all aspects of our writing.

Document Unity

The first step to keeping your document unified is to establish a clear thesis. A thesis is a sentence that clearly states what the document will address. The thesis should be located in the first paragraph of your document so that the audience knows your purpose for writing. The thesis should foreshadow the topics you discuss in your paragraphs. I like to view the thesis as a road map for my document. It explains what the document will say and how the document plans to arrive at a conclusion.

Here are some examples of thesis statements:

In order to improve McBurger Queen, we must arrive to work on time, expand our menu offerings, and focus on improving our customer service.

This traditional three-pronged thesis explains the purpose of the document to explain how to improve the company and provides a glimpse at what the body paragraphs will be about: arriving on time, expanding the menu, and improving customer service. Assuming that the body paragraphs address each of those issues, the document will be unified.

Here's another example:

Despite recent setbacks in our taco division, we still believe that McBurger Queen can continue to expand its menu options by offering gyros and lo mein.

This thesis provides structure by creating a vision for what the document will discuss: the new menu options. Assuming that the writer focuses each paragraph on the menu options, the document will be unified because the thesis explains the purpose and lays out subtopics that will support the purpose.

Notice that the focus of each document will be slightly different based on the thesis: the first on improving customer service and the second on expanding menu options. It is important that each document only focus on one main purpose. Trying to address more than one purpose can confuse your reader and make it difficult to keep your information unified.

Paragraph Unity

Once you've written a clear thesis, you should know what each paragraph of your document will address because the paragraphs will be the subtopics foreshadowed in your thesis. But having each paragraph unified is important to the unity of the overall document.

To keep your paragraphs unified, start with a topic sentence. A topic sentence is a sentence that explains the general idea or message of a paragraph. The topic sentence serves to focus the information in the rest of the paragraph around a single subject. Without a topic sentence, the rest of the paragraph feels like a jumble of random information with no real purpose.

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