Hero Image

Creating Unity in Writing

June 1, 2021

If you come to Southern to major in English, or even if you don’t major in English, you will probably be in one of the department’s first-year writing courses, English 101. This course is unified around certain important principles of composition no matter who you take the class from.

Each 101 section divides writing evaluation into five categories—unity, coherence, content, style, and correctness.

What is unity? Unity is the sense a writer creates that an essay has an identifiable purpose. Unity is created a number of ways.

The real beginning of an essay is the title. It’s important to create a good one, because the reader’s sense of unity starts right there. A title that doesn’t begin the unity of the essay is all wrong! For instance, one-word titles can’t usually capture enough specific information to be a true unifier. But a title that is a full sentence provides too much information and thus is not a true beginning.

The trick is to indicate the topic of the essay without giving too much away. An example of a good title: “The Forgotten Menace of Bad Manners.” This title suggests that the essay will be about bad manners, but the reader doesn’t yet know how bad manners are a “menace”!

First lines of essays are critical to unity. The first line should be “organic,” a seed from which all else grows. Immature opening lines sometimes make grand but obvious claims—“The world is a dangerous place.” This line is not a unifier!

Examples of organic, unifying openings: “It was lunch time and they were all sitting under the double green fly of the dining tent pretending that nothing had happened.” (Ernest Hemingway, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.”) “All happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” (Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina). “When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.” (Franz Kafka, “The Metamorphosis.”) “Buck did not read the newspapers, or he would have known that trouble was brewing, not alone for him, but for every tide-water dog, strong of muscle and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to San Diego.” (Jack London, The Call of the Wild.)

Notice how each of these openings contains a huge amount of information that will be exploited in the text.

Thesis statements are also critical to written unity. A thesis statement should be a specific, manageable claim or assertion that is an answer to a question at issue. The question is not normally present in an essay, but it is certainly inferred. One of the best ways to create a thesis is to search for a good question. Remember, though, that the first line and the thesis are not the same.

Closings are key to unity. Writers are sometimes taught that a closing is a mere summary of the main points of an essay. This technique okay, but it is not very sophisticated. Writing nothing but a summary means that the writer has, in effect, stopped writing. Writers should instead keep writing right to the last word.

So a good closing says new things—not off the topic, of course. Closings are not the place to make any major points that are not in the main body of the essay. As a writer closes an essay, this might be the time to discuss the implications of the essay, evaluate, or suggest something be done. Anything, that is, but merely rehash the contents of the essay. A good closing must seem important, not a formality.

If an essay you write has these elements, it’s hard to go wrong!