Observation-Implication-Conclusion Paragraph Structure in Narrative

One of the best ways to tie bits of story together with your ideas, is to use an Observation-Implication-Conclusion paragraph or, as in the example here, paragraph-sequence structure.

The Observation-Implication-Conclusion (OIC) paragraph structure is just a little more complex than the Idea-Illustration-Comment or Point-Illustration-Explanation paragraph structures you may be used to. It’s valuable, because it allows you to draw more complex connections between your evidence and the ideas and claims that make sense of your evidence. Here is an explanation of the moves to make in an OIC paragraph (or paragraph-sequence), with some samples.

Observation: What’s your evidence? What specific parts of your experience do you focus on when you look at your literacy history? Why? What patterns do you see?

Moves: Tell stories, describe people and events. Focus readers’ attention on significant details that you will comment on later in the paragraph. Hint at the implications coming later. In non-narrative essays, explain explicitly why you chose those particular aspects of your experience to focus on. In narrative essays, you can be more subtle.

Example: Not all of my early reading experiences were nurturing. Each summer, my Uncle Roland invited my father and one of his three sons on a fishing trip. When I was nine it was my turn. My brothers had told me what a great time they had. Uncle Roland was funny and he really knew how to catch fish. Great fun, right? Well, being me, I put three thick science fiction books in my pack in case I got bored. Well, about half an hour into the fishing trip I got bored. It’s true that Uncle Roland was funny. In fact, I’m sure now that his off-color jokes were meant to signal to me that I was old enough to be treated like a “man” and not a “child.” And we did catch fish. Well, Dad and Uncle Roland did. Me, not so much. Why? Because I sat there in the bottom of the boat, fishing rod resting on the side of the boat, my nose in a book, and not paying much attention to the subtle signals traveling up my line. “What’s the matter with you?” Uncle Roland asked. “Don’t you want to catch fish? Put that book away and pay attention.

Implications/Insights: What can you say about your experience/evidence that will help other people understand it better and see it as support of an idea or claim [about literacy]?

Moves: Put your experience in context: how usual or unusual is it? Point to significant details of your experience/evidence and explain what’s interesting, strange, or revealing about them? Reveal the implicit in the explicit by naming and explaining the ideas, concepts or values that are suggested by your emerging understanding of your experience/evidence. Blend implications with looks-back at the evidence.

Example: I’m sure Uncle Roland meant to be helpful. In his mind, he was initiating me into an important experience that would help me become a man. But not just any man, the “right” kind of man, the kind of man that he was. Don’t get me wrong, Uncle Roland was a voracious reader. He was self-educated; he read widely, and not only in plumbing and heating systems, which was his business. He read history and politics. But he didn’t have much time for literature. His success as a business man was a product of native intelligence and the insights and ideas he gained from his reading. But it was equally a product of his aggressive competitive approach to business. Looking at me, sitting there, most of my mind parsecs away in a piece of science fiction, letting fish off the hook, he must have thought that my devotion to reading wasn’t quite manly enough. That if I was to be successful in life, my interest in reading needed to be tempered by an interest in the world beyond me. My Dad looked at me, and I put my book down and tried to focus on fishing. But what I really wanted to do was get back to the adventures of Valentine Michael Smith in Stranger in a Strange Land.

Conclusion:   What tentative generalizable claim(s) [about literacy] does your well-understood experience/evidence support?

Moves: Formulate and explain the implications of your implications by drawing a conclusion that could apply to similar evidence or cases other than the one that started the paragraph/sequence. Blend conclusions with looks-back at the evidence. But as the paragraph comes to a close give priority to the more general claims.

Example: That day passed, but it sticks in my mind almost 40 years later. Uncle Roland surely meant to be kind, and to tell the truth, I don’t think I let his criticism affect me much, despite how much I admired him. But I wonder how many other kids, less secure in their devotion to reading, might have been put off by his remark, and thought something was wrong with them when an admired relative or mentor shamed them for reading. Kids find adult sponsors of literacy everywhere. And because they care for kids, adults often feel entitled, even obligated, to project their ideas about reading and writing on them. Despite his own experiences of reading, my Uncle Roland feared that what he saw as my overinvestment in reading, especially the made-up worlds of science fiction, would make me unfit for success in a real world where men used their wit and strength to compete with one another. I did OK. But adult sponsors of children’s literacies should be mindful of how their own hopes and fears shape their approach to sponsorship. Adults engaging children in literacy activities should aim to support the child’s emerging sense of self, rather than steering them in a direction that meets the adult’s expectations.

Not all of your paragraphs in an essay will take this form, but many will because of its power to blend description of your evidence with narrow, case-based, implications and insights that come together in more general claims about your topic in a conclusion. Notice, too, that OIC can provide the structure both a single paragraph or for a series of paragraphs. Experiment with OIC in your draft.