Eric Hayot systemized a key to approach practice of writing in his book the Elements of Academic Style – Writing for the Humanities. It is called the Uneven U method. This method can be applied both in paragraph and chapter levels. Even a whole book can be designed with the Uneven U. According to my experiences, this method eases the practice of writing while increasing the efficiency. So, let’s dive into it.
First, we must understand the function levels:
- Generalized and abstract level which is oriented to conclusion
- Less generalized level which is oriented to problems and pulls ideas together
- Conceptual summary level which draws together two or more pieces of evidence
- Descriptive level which is like an establishing shot and an interpretive summary
- Informative level which gives unmediated and uninterpreted raw data
You may have difficulty to put your sentences under any of these levels. You may even do not understand what these levels mean. It is okay. What is important is that to have a general idea and follow the pattern rather than putting our sentences into these levels like a mechanical bot.
The Uneven U regards the fifth level as the ceiling and the first level as the floor. Hayot argues that the most effective way to express an idea is to start with the fourth level and go all the way to the floor followed by a journey from the floor to the ceiling. It can be demonstrated basically with this series: 4-3-2-1-2-3-4-5. When it is shown in a diagram, the name of this method starts to make sense. (I would prefer the Uneven V but it’s his decision.)
What does the Uneven U mean?
To get rid of these mathematical functions, let’s summarize what would a paragraph written with the Uneven U look like. This paragraph should start with general expressions providing its thematic, argumentative and structural promises. This level is very important because not only it links the paragraph with the previous ones but also it explains what this paragraph is going to mention and how will its approach be. Next level is going to be consist of a couple of sentences which conceptualize its materials, arguments and findings. When it comes to the second level, these materials, arguments and findings are going to be described and explained. The floor level is going to provide unprocessed, unmediated and uninterpreted data (direct quotations, statistical data, etc.) This is our journey from the general to the specific.
When it comes to opposite direction, we start with the level 2 and continue with the level 3. We must first explain and describe the unmediated data and then these all should be conceptualized. After all, our arguments, findings and materials should be put in the context and our ideas should be put together. But this time we have an extra step above the fourth level: we have to conclude the paragraph as it oriented to a new concept, argument or knowledge. This is what the Uneven U suggests a paragraph to be well designed.
Let’s suppose we are on a highway intersection and we don’t know which way to go. There is a small town near this highway and we decided to visit that town to get the knowledge we need. Our journey to the town and all the way back represents a paragraph. When we get off the highway and start to drive in the road to the town, we have a question and a couple of hypothesis for the right way and this town. We can only see the general picture (level 4). When we enter the town, we are no longer able to see the panoramic sight of it, rather we witness the details like occupations of the locals and architecture of the buildings in a context (level 3). We are looking for a place to ask which way to go, that’s why we must define and describe these people and places (level 2). When we find the right place and the right person, we seek the raw data (level 1).
The inward journey is like a repeat with a very important difference. We are no longer the people who don’t have any evidence for the right path. We have learned new things and first we must define and describe them (level 2), then we must conceptualize them to give meaning (level 3). When we arrive at the highway, we try to remember why we visited this town and what we found (level 4). Finally, as a conclusion, we decide which way to go with the help of the data we collected in the town (level 5). This is the end of a part of our journey or a paragraph of our text.
In the most general sense, this is the Uneven U method of Eric Hayot. As I said before, instead of regarding it as a set of certain rules, it is better to use it as a framework which can be changed if it is necessary. Furthermore, Hayot himself doesn’t advise to use it as it is in all paragraphs. For example, he breaks the Uneven U from its half and recommend for us to use 1-2-3-4-5 ordering for the introduction paragraphs. Instead of giving all the exceptions and private situations, I recommend you consult the book of Hayot.
This was translated into English, in Jul 2018.
Source: Eric Hayot, the Elements of Academic Style: Writing for the Humanities.
Featured Image: Liralen Li