Interpreting through Organization
Earlier in the semester, we defined and talked about the importance of a thesis. There are clues in
organization to the identification of the thesis. None of these are one hundred percent guaranteed
to give you the thesis, but they provide useful techniques.
Finding a thesis
- Look for sentences with the characteristics of a thesis. Good theses are single, simple,
declarative sentences. When you find one of these early in the speech, it becomes a candidate
- Look for a thesis by placement. Generally, a thesis is located near the end of the
introduction. So a wrap-up of the introduction or a transition into the body of the speech can
indicate a thesis.
- Look for terminology and signposts. Sometimes speakers say, "My thesis is . . ."; sometimes
they may say, "What I will talk about today is . . ." or "In this speech I will argue . . ." It is
also not unusual for speakers to use volume, pace, or other characteristics of the voice to
indicate to you where a thesis is located.
- Look for sentences that serve the function of a thesis. A thesis does particular work in the
speech, so look for that work to be done.
- Limiting the topic. A good thesis draws limits around the topic to help the listener
understand what the speaker will talk about and what not.
- Suggesting the purpose. A good thesis indicates the speaker's objectives in the
speech. Look for evidence of what the speaker is attempting to accomplish.
- Determine the significance of the speech. A good thesis makes it obvious to the audience
why the speech is important and why listening to it is important. Answer this question and you
will be close to the thesis.
Remember, speeches need not have overt theses stated in the speech, but if they are good
strategic discourse they will have a thesis -- overt or understood -- which defines their central
Being Sensitive to Outlines
Organization can help you in understanding and evaluating strategic discourse. Strategic
discourse is easier to interpret if we can separate it into its parts and understand each part.
Outlining is a particularly good way to do this.
- Look for the parts of a message. You can use the principles of outlining to lay out the major
and minor parts.
- Determine the purpose of each part, its thesis. Just as the speech has a thesis, so does each
major part and subpart. Once you have the claim of a part isolated, you can locate its purpose
in the discourse.
- Listen carefully and critically to each part. You can now employ the things you have
learned to evaluate the proof or to understand the part.
Patterns of Organization
By directing us through strategic discourse, patterns of organization lend power to the discourse.
You should know these patterns of organization defined in Campbell and Huxman.
- Problem-Solution Sequence
- Motivated Sequence
Working through a message
Good strategic discourse recognizes the expectations of an audience in the form of a message.
The general form of a message is:
- Introduction. Establishes your relationship with the speaker and the subject.
- Body. Explains and offers support for the speaker's strategic purpose. Listen and evaluate
the body of the discourse.
- Conclusion. Last chance for you to understand the purpose and evaluate the strategic