Resources For Writers: Organizational Strategy – Forecasting

Forecasting Explanation — Hamlet

A forecast gives your readers a mini “outline” of what is to come in the paper. It tells the readers two things: (1) the name of each of the major ideas in your paper and (2) the order in which those ideas will appear. Logically, the forecast is the last thing in your introduction. In relatively short papers, the forecast is often part of the thesis statement. One of the keys to a successful forecast is selecting a name (one or two words) for each major idea in your essay. These names are then listed as part of your forecast.

A continual forecast is part of the act of transition. Once you have finished discussing the first major idea, you begin the next section or paragraph by doing three things: (1) creating some form of transition (either a word or phrase or repetition of a key term), (2) state again the exact name of the major idea which you just finished discussing in the previous section, and (3) name the new idea that you will discuss in this section. One key to continual forecasting is using the exact same name for each major idea throughout the essay, particularly when you move from one idea to the next. The repetition of the exact same name helps readers see your organization and progress. With forecasts and continual forecasts, ignore the impulse to use synonyms for the names of your key ideas.

Example

Assume that you’ve been asked to write a paper on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Your prewriting might consist of the following list:

1. Hamlet is indecisive.

2. His mother remarries too soon after the death of Hamlet’s father.

3. Hamlet kills Polonius on the “spur of the moment.”

4. Ophelia goes insane.

5. This is Shakespeare’s longest tragedy.

6. Claudius is king.

7. Hamlet questions everything.

8. Laertes is a foil to Hamlet.

9. Claudius is also Gertrude’s brother-in-law.

10. Laertes takes fast action to avenge his father’s death.

11. Hamlet might have a psychological problem.

12. Claudius becomes a substitute father for Hamlet.

13. Hamlet kills Claudius on the spur of the moment.

14. Would Hamlet have acted if Laertes and Claudius hadn’t forced the issue?

15. Claudius supposedly murdered Hamlet’s father.

16. Hamlet is not sure he can trust the word of a ghost.

Using some of the items from the above list, we might create the following categories (names of the main ideas) : (1) Hamlet’s indecision; (2) Hamlet’s hasty actions; (3) Claudius’s guilt; (4) Laertes as foil.

Narrowing our topic to Hamlet’s personality (since we seem to have the most information on that — 3 categories — and because it’s the issue that most interests us). A tentative thesis statement is your best guess about what the main point of your essay will be before you have written the first draft. A typical tentative thesis statement tends to be a simple sentence, relatively short, and its content tends to be general rather than very specific. For instance, we might write one of the following tentative thesis statements:

1. “Hamlet is a complex person.”

2. “Hamlet’s personality includes indecision and hasty action.”

After writing the first draft, we look it over and create a DEVELOPED THESIS STATEMENT. A developed thesis statement is created after you have seen what you have written in a draft. A typical developed thesis statement tends to be a compound or complex sentence, relatively long, and its content tends to be very specific. For instance, we might write one of the following DEVELOPED THESIS STATEMENTS:

3. “Hamlet’s personality has three crucial elements — his indecision, his hasty actions, and his Oedipal complex.”

4. “Hamlet’s personality has three crucial elements — his hasty actions, his Oedipal complex, and his indecision.”

5. “Because of his Oedipal complex, Hamlet is often indecisive and becomes decisive only when events force him into hasty actions.”

6. “Although Hamlet seems to be inconsistent because he delays and then suddenly acts hastily, the apparent inconsistency is revealed as actual consistency when we understand that he suffers from an Oedipal complex.”

In a developed thesis statement, the main ideas are named in the order in which we intend to discuss them. Hence the difference between #3 and #4 is this: in #3, Hamlet’s indecision is the least important idea (and hence will be discussed first in the essay), his hasty actions are the next most important idea (and hence will be discussed second), and his Oedipal complex is the most important idea (and hence will be discussed third). In #4, however, his hasty actions are the least important idea, his Oedipal complex is the next most important idea, and his indecision is the most important idea. In #5, the “Because” clause at the beginning of the sentence signals that the Oedipal complex is the cause of the other two traits and thus is the most important. Hamlet’s indecision is the least important, and his hasty actions are the next most important. In other words, the forecast functions as a mini-outline of the essay. This fact helps the writer stay on track and it helps readers understand the development of your ideas and of your essay.

Note that in a typical English sentence structure (subject + verb+ everything else), the most important idea is often listed last in the forecast and is discussed last in the essay. When we vary the sentence structure, however, as when we use the dependent “Because” clause at the beginning of sentence #5, importance can be signaled by the choice of words. Yet the “Although” clause that begins #6 indicates that the delaying is least important, the hasty acts are next most important, and the Oedipal complex is the most important.

Our introduction might be the following:

“One of the most puzzling elements of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet has been the personality of Hamlet himself. Although he receives supernatural assurance that his uncle Claudius has murdered his father, and although he can see with his own eyes that Claudius has hastened to marry his own sister-in-law (Hamlet’s mother), Hamlet still seems incapable of deciding what to do. Should he leave Denmark and resume his studies? Should he take the place as heir apparent that Claudius offers? Should he kill Claudius? When we focus on the personality of Hamlet itself, at least part of the puzzle is solved. Even though Hamlet was written long before Freud was born, Shakespeare has given us an accurate portrait of a man paralyzed by Oedipal guilt. In short, Hamlet’s personality has three crucial elements — his indecision, his hasty actions, and his Oedipal complex. [Note two things here: first, that, as often happens, the thesis and forecast are one sentence; second, that the thesis/forecast is the last sentence in the introduction]

[This is the first sentence of the 2nd paragraph or the 2nd section] Evidence of Hamlet’s indecision abounds in the play.

(Then follows one or more paragraphs to complete the 2nd section with examples and discussion).

[This is the first sentence of the 3rd section] Whenever Hamlet overcomes his indecision, the results are hasty actions which complicate rather than resolve his problem.

(Then follows one or more paragraphs giving examples of his hasty actions and developing the implications of his hasty actions).

[This is the first sentence of the 4th section] To understand Hamlet’s indecision and hasty actions, we must finally come to see that he suffers from a profound Oedipal complex.

(Then follows one or more paragraphs explaining and illustrating the implications of the Oedipal complex).

[This is the first sentence of the conclusion] Understanding the sources of Hamlet’s indecision and hasty actions to be an Oedipal complex, then, helps solve some of the puzzling aspects of Hamlet.

Some writers do the reverse — they first create the categories (the names for their major ideas) and then find examples and explanations to flesh out those categories. Either approach is fine.

Notice, finally, that using continual forecasting creates explicit connections between ideas, connections that help readers understand your points.

 

Note: To the best of my knowledge, the concept forecasting was developed by Albert VanNostrand and others at Brown University and was popularized in the now out-of-print Functional Writing.