Basics of Composition

This resource will introduce you to the fundamentals of English composition. It was prepared by the Business Communication Lab at the Sam M. Walton College of Business.
View All ResourcesBusiness Writing Resources
What does it mean to “compose”?

Composition refers to the production of text. Usually, when we think of texts, we think of written documents like books and essays. However, a text is anything with a message to communicate, whether that message is written, oral, or delivered via some other medium (such as film or music). Those for whom the text is intended are called the audience.

Texts are composed for the purpose of either informing, persuading, or evoking. An informative text attempts to communicate information to the audience. A persuasive text attempts to either (1) prove to the audience that something is true or (2) convince the audience to pursue a certain course of action. An evocative text attempts to elicit an emotional response from the audience.

Examples of informative texts: brochures, textbooks, handbooks, instruction manuals

Examples of persuasive texts: editorials, debates, research papers, critiques

Examples of evocative texts: songs, films, speeches, novels

Note that it is possible for a text to have more than one purpose. For example, a funeral eulogy would be both informative (in that it discusses the deceased person’s life) and evocative (in that it aims to stir pleasant memories of the deceased person). As another example, a politician’s campaign speech could serve all three purposes: informative (in that the candidate discusses her platform), persuasive (in that she hopes to convince the audience to vote for her), and evocative (in that she hopes to excite the audience’s emotions).

What are the elements of a text?

Regardless of the type of text being composed, all texts have an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. In general, these three elements serve the same purpose in any text. The introduction serves to acquaint the audience with the text’s subject matter. The body serves to develop the main idea of the text. The conclusion serves to bring the text to a logical end.

How do I write an effective introduction?

Remember that the purpose of an introduction is to acquaint the audience with the text’s subject matter. Effective introductions entice the audience to keep reading or listening. Introductions should be fairly brief, as the audience will be eager to get to the body.

Introductions for informative texts should indicate the main topic to be discussed in the body. They should also establish a map which guides the audience to the content of the body: what information does the body cover, and in what order? Here is an example of an introductory statement that could appear in an instruction manual:

These instructions will explain how to install the Rad-B-Gone® device in your home. They will also explain how to maintain your device and will conclude with troubleshooting suggestions.

Introductions for persuasive texts should establish the thesis of the text. The thesis is the central claim the text intends to prove. These introductions, like those for informative texts, should also guide the audience to the various points the body will present in order to prove the thesis. Here is an example of an introductory statement that could appear in a research paper:

This paper argues that companies should implement diversity and inclusion policies. Such policies have the potential to increase profits, benefit company culture, and improve the company’s public reputation.

Introductions for evocative texts often feature an attention-getter, a rhetorical device designed to quickly capture the audience’s attention. For such texts, it is especially important to “hook” the audience from the beginning. If the introduction bores the audience, the audience may lose focus and abandon the text. Here is an example of an introductory statement that could appear in a novel:

Govani always knew that he was special, but he was about to find out just how special he was.

How do I write an effective body?

Remember that the purpose of a body is to develop the main idea of a text. Most texts have several “points” that they use to support the main idea. The body presents these supporting points in a logical order.

Written texts such as essays often present the supporting points paragraph by paragraph. Each paragraph should begin with a topic sentence, a sentence summarizing the supporting point that paragraph discusses. Having clear topic sentences for each paragraph improves the organization of the text and makes it easier for the audience to follow.

However, even non-written texts, despite not having paragraphs, should have a strong sense of organization. Both written and non-written texts should transition smoothly from one supporting point to the next to provide a sense of cohesiveness. One effective way to accomplish this is to use transition words and phrases between supporting points. Here are some examples of common transition words and phrases:

Transitions of Similarity: in the same way, similarly, likewise, in addition
Transitions of Contrast: on the other hand, in contrast, however
Transitions of Time: first, second, third, finally, lastly, then, next
Transitions of Cause and Effect: as a result, consequently, because of this
Transitions of Summary: as I have said, as noted, to conclude, in conclusion

 

Examples of transitioning between supporting points:

Some insects can blend into their surroundings. Similarly, chameleons camouflage themselves to avoid predators.

There are several benefits to raising the minimum wage. On the other hand, it can also cause some problems.

First, I’ll explain what synergy is. Then, I’ll discuss its benefits. Finally, I’ll share strategies for implementing it.

Enrollment at the University continues to increase. As a result, the parking problem has gotten steadily worse.

To conclude my presentation, I ask you to consider what you can do to make a difference in your community.

 

The types of transitions you use will depend on the purpose of your text. For example, a set of instructions would use transitions of time since the purpose is to tell the audience what steps to follow and in what order to follow them. Likewise, a compare-and-contrast type of text would use transitions of similarity and contrast.

How do I write an effective conclusion?

Remember that the purpose of a conclusion is to bring the text to a logical end—to “wrap up” the text. Effective conclusions leave the audience with something useful or interesting to think about. Like the introduction, the conclusion should be fairly brief; long conclusions are likely to frustrate the audience.

Conclusions for informative texts may briefly restate the text’s main points if the text is fairly long. Such conclusions may also direct the audience to other texts on the subject matter, or they may make a statement on the relevance of the subject matter to the audience. Here is an example of a concluding statement that might appear in an informative letter to a customer:

It is important to keep your account current so you avoid late fees and other penalties. If you have additional questions about your statement, please contact customer service at (555) 555-5555.

Conclusions for persuasive texts restate the text’s thesis (in new words) and explain to the audience why they should care about the subject matter. They may also issue a “call to action” to the audience, urging the audience to take a certain action. Some persuasive texts (e.g., research papers) conclude with a call for further research into the subject matter. Here is an example of a concluding statement that might appear in a political candidate’s speech:

Today, I have explained to you why raising the minimum wage is essential. Doing so will improve the prosperity of not only those working in minimum wage jobs but every single citizen of this great state. I encourage you to vote “Yes” on Proposition 10 to raise the minimum wage!

Here is an example of a concluding statement that might appear in a research paper:

This paper has analyzed the effects of Chemical J on lab rodents and discussed possible implications for its practical use. Future research could explore Chemical J’s effects on human subjects, as well as its environmental impact.

Conclusions for evocative texts leave a lasting emotional effect on the audience. They may also include a “cliffhanger,” which builds the audience’s anticipation for a follow-up text (e.g., a sequel to a film or book). Here is an example of a concluding statement that might appear in a “toast” speech at a wedding:

And so I wish Paul and Jenna years of happiness together, and I wish them luck on the new adventure they are about to begin. I know that they have the love, the compassion, and the patience to make their marriage a happy and enduring one.

Recently Created Resources

Basics of Western Argumentation

American business often involves making arguments rather than simply stating facts. In both your academic and professional experience, you may be tasked with creating and delivering—either in written or oral form—a coherent, logical argument. An argument...

read more

Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal Communication Direct communication refers to the actual spoken words someone uses to express his or her meaning. In contrast, nonverbal communication refers to unspoken ways of expressing meaning, such as gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice. In...

read more

Persuasive Writing in Business

Persuasive Writing in Business In business courses, your writing often must include a recommendation, which will be based on careful research and analysis of information. In this way, professors are asking students to write persuasively rather than just...

read more