Monday, September 27, 2004

Given-New (2)

The given-new relationship in communication is like a contract. When someone speaks to me or writes something I will read, I expect that person to begin with what I know. In other words, the contract says speakers and writers begin with something the audience knows before introducing something the audience might not know.

To give an example. If I meet someone and the first thing that person says is “She was really excited last night,” I am lost if I do not know who she is or that she was excited. My first question would be who? In other words, what is the given I am supposed to know?

Given-new patterns can vary from paragraph to paragraph. Three common patterns are:


In this pattern the new information is introduced by connecting to the given information. Then the new information becomes given information to introduce new information.

A dog is a very good pet. This pet will meet you affectionately at the door everyday. This affection will not be lost if you fail a test or have a bad day.

Another pattern is

A => B
A => C
A => D

This pattern connects to the same given information to introduce different kinds of new information. For example, in this paragraph dog is the repeated given information.

A dog makes a very good pet. A dog will remain a true friend even when it is ignored. A dog will help you through times when a person feels sad or does not do well.
There are other patterns of development with the given new relation connection, but they are basically variations on these two.

Saturday, September 11, 2004


When a writer wants to communicate with someone, he or she begins with something the reader knows about. This is the topic since topics are usually somewhat general. The topic links the reader and the writer because there is a common place or idea to begin with. The writer then provides a statement or controlling idea which tells the reader what the writer wants to say about the topic.

Another way to look at this is that the topic is the given information and the statement is the knew information. The reader knows at least something about the topic; the reader does not know what the writer wants to say about the topic, so this information (the statement) is new information. From this point, the writer begins with given information and uses it to introduce new information.

This pattern of given and new information is common in writing and speaking because it enables the reader (or listener) to make a connection and prepare for something they don't know. In speaking, the new information usually gets more stress than the given information. In writing, the given information usually comes before the new information. Knowing this, we can understand how paragraphs and longer pieces of writing are constructed.

The topic sentence consists of the topic (given) and the statement (new). After the statement is introduced, it is given information. Thus writers use connections between the given information (the topic sentence) and the new information, the supports, to help the reader understand the piece of writing. In other words , the topic sentence provides the given information for the rest of the paragraph, and the supports provide the new information.

When we talk about the structure of supports as containing a connection (a so what?), an area, and details, we are saying that each support has a given (the so what?). This given helps the reader understand that each support is connected to the topic sentence. The connection can be made through connecting to the statement or the topic. The statement, however, limits the choices of supports because the supports must develop the statement. When I say that the supports must develop the statement, I mean that each support provides more information about the controlling idea (statement). To give an example, if my statement (controlling idea) is about the strengths of Santa Fe Community College, each support must be a strength of SFCC. Consequently, I can not choose a support that is weakness of SFCC and write a good paragraph.

In this example, strength becomes the given information for each support. This is why we restate in some way the statement in each support. This restatement helps the reader see the connection because the writer starts from the known (the given) before introducing the new (the area and supporting details).

This introduction is somewhat general and theoretical. I will try to explain the details more clearly in another post.