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The Head, Body, and Feet of Expression

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Little children drawing a picture of a human produce a normal size head, a big trunk, and little chicken feet.

Because this comes naturally, ancient people decided on these three parts as the adult Outline in which thoughts and feelings can be expressed in speaking or writing. The literary equivalents of the child's head, trunk, and feet drawing are the introduction, the body, and the conclusion.

The word Introduction ("to lead inside") means an opening directed toward a purpose. Good openings grab hold of the audience's attention and briefs them on the tour of the body. This is like showing guest the inside of your house in order to make them comfortable before dinner. In the Opening use a "hook" to catch your guests' attention. Interest "hooks" arouse their anticipation with a question; stimulate their curiosity with a statement; or put them at ease with a humorous remark; or establish a common bond with an anecdote. A clever "hook" goes on to state your main purpose. The purpose of the introduction is to state your intentions and give guest some idea of the theme and scope of what you are getting ready to say. It is specific and precise about what you intend to do and how it can benefit them. The Theme ("something set down") is the central thought or feeling in your topic -- the one you want your guest to hold on to -- like a tow rope -- as they go from head to trunk to feet. The theme of a circus is amusement. It is around the theme which you organize information and drape meaning. Scope is the framework in which your theme will operate -- the range and the depth your subject will reach.

The Body contains an orderly arrangement of your main points. Each thought should lead reasonably into the next. Sections of thought related to the same point are joined by bridge words. Bridge words like "therefore" and "however" are connectors of thoughts or of those phrases (orderly meaningful words) which either summarize what has gone before or list what is to follow. Like pieces of construction material used in building a house, each sentence should contribute to your overall purpose. Choose words, spell out their specific meanings, and then select one of those specific meanings to illustrate your points as simply and naturally as possible. Fill in only enough details, arrange sentences the way your guest think, and use familiar words so that you guests are not struggling to understand. Associate "complex concepts" with everyday things or happenings without sacrificing meaning or getting your guest's thoughts and feeling off-tract. Unless you are trying to create a special effect, stay with grammatical forms commonly used. Except among friends, it is probably best to avoid slang. Present only your three most important items, but cover everything you set out to cover.

The Conclusion is both the shutting off an argument and the summing up your three main points. For informative writings or speeches give the main ideas and your specific purpose; in persuasive ones, combine a summary with a final appeal to your guests to accept your offered arguments; in the entertaining type, end with something amusing and without any formal conclusion. The conclusion requires the most work because, to be effective, it must leave a lasting impression. The success of failure of the opening and closing remarks particularly depends on the words chosen, how they are arranged, and the way you say them. The objective is to lead your guests' attention down the tract to the station where your purpose can be accepted and hopefully embraced.

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