Bits of information, explanation, and summary that orient the reader.
Orienting is all about context. Depending on the discipline, the assignment, and the expected expertise of one’s audience, a writer will naturally pepper her words with varying tidbits of explanation and information. Regardless of the specificities of the assignment, however, the goal is always clear: you want to hold your readers’ hands and guide them by providing necessary, illuminating facts, but you don’t want to insult the reader’s intelligence with excess repetition and fruitless oversimplification.
While a good essay needs to have a compelling motive and thesis, it is imperative that the author accompanies those elements with sufficient orienting so the reader can understand the underlying concepts and ideas of the argument. To do so, the author oftentimes will define and contextualize key terms, explaining what the terms mean and how they will be used in that particular paper. Depending on the discipline or genre, orienting can also include providing background information on a novel’s plot, the current scholarly conversation on a certain topic, or the data available in a given field. Well-oriented papers employ these techniques throughout the entire work to produce a clear and cohesive piece of writing.
The papers we have chosen to showcase are exemplary models of orienting done well. Alexandra Marino’s “A Nation of Maniacs” is good at orienting because it explains both key primary texts and the key terms that form the scaffolding of the paper’s analytical lens. In Benjamin Gallo’s excerpt, he provides an excellent example of orienting both key terms and plot points simultaneously in order to prove how “risk factors” affect Tracy’s school and family life in the movie Thirteen.
For more details, refer to the Orienting Preface from our 2014 issue, available here: https://tortoise.princeton.edu/2015/10/18/orienting-14/.