Presenting Key Terms and Concepts

Many papers hinge on a few precisely defined terms or concepts. A discussion of the Civil Rights Movement probably needs a definition of civil rights, just as a paper on the Human Genome Project probably needs an explanation of what a genome is. Define important and commonly used terms, especially if you are using them in a sense other than the one your audience expects. Again, whether and how you define a particular term will depend on the level of knowledge you assume for your intended audience.

Other considerations may affect your decision, too. If your are using a contested concept — one whose meaning is a subject of debate — you will need to explain how you understand it. Otherwise, readers with their own (possibly strong) opinions about its meaning may misconstrue your argument. You can communicate your ideas effectively only if you and your audience understand the underlying terms and concepts in the same way.

Providing Context: Introductions and Quotes

As you write your introduction, you can present your intended audience with a broad historical, social, or scientific context for your thesis. This is your first chance to help the audience approach the subject from the same perspective that you do.

Throughout your paper, however, remain alert to moments when readers may not share your perspective. Never assume, for instance, that you and your audience will interpret a quotation in the same way. Provide a context for the quotation beforehand, and then give your own analysis. After all, what you as the expert regard as its obvious meaning may be far from obvious to your readers.

Sometimes, you may not be able to provide all of the context or explanation that you would like to. Space may be limited, or you may simply not want to bludgeon your readers with that much information. These are the times when good citation technique is most helpful. If all else fails, your readers can consult your references and look up additional information for themselves.

Awareness of Audience

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