Choosing an Order for Sequential Reasons

There are two kinds of reasons. Parallel reasons< are logically independent from one another: Each one supports the claim on its own, without reference to the others, and you could add or drop one reason without affecting the others. Sequential reasons< are connected to each other because they follow a logical sequence or because they relate to external factors. Whether your reasons are parallel or sequential, readers expect them to come in an order that makes sense. Here are some ways to order sequential reasons (click here for ways to order parallel reasons<.)

Chronology:<

When your reasons follow a recognizable sequence in time, readers can easily see their connection. For example, in a paper for her history class Isabel wants to show how gradual changes in gender roles through the twentieth century led some people to fear that ideas of “manhood” or “masculinity” would disappear from American culture:
The idea of “manhood” faced a number of threats in the twentieth century. Early in the century, men worried about the “feminization” of American culture. Rapid industrialization kept men increasingly out of the home and away from the children. Accordingly, the socialization of children was left to mothers and teachers, in both the public school and Sunday school—roles mostly filled by women. Men feared that boys and girls alike failed to appreciate the need for the male values of self-sacrifice, valor, and honor. There was a revival of masculinity through the two World Wars, when the virtues of heroic sacrifice were demanded of men and women alike. But after World War II, the national response to the wars in Korea and especially Vietnam made soldiers seem less heroic. Also, women entered the workplace in large numbers, not as heroic, self-sacrificing surrogates for absent men, but as equal participants in government and the economy. Accordingly, the ideal of manhood began to be the “sensitive” man, best portrayed by Hawkeye, in the TV show M*A*S*H. Once again, men felt that masculinity was under threat.<
The order in which Isabella presents her reasons follows naturally from their order in history, and her readers will easily understand how each follows from its predecessor.

Cause-and-Effect:<

When your reasons follow a sequence of causes, readers can easily see their connection. For example, in a brochure written for a student health center, Tarik wants to list all the reasons students should avoid fast food. One of them is that the high levels of salt in fast food have long-term health effects. Tarik has four reasons why too much salt is bad for you:
  • Too much salt intake can cause hypertension (high blood pressure).
  • Strokes and heart attacks are leading causes of premature death.
  • Strokes and heart attacks can result from high blood pressure.
  • Too much salt intake can cause bloating and retention of fluid in the blood.
These reasons are connected because each one causes or is the result of another. Readers can follow them more easily when they follow that sequence of causes and effects:

1) Too much salt intake can cause bloating and the retention of fluid in the blood.

2) Too much fluid in the blood can lead to hypertension (high blood pressure).

3) High blood pressure can increase the risk of stroke or heart attack.

4) Strokes and heart attacks are leading causes of premature death.

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In this order, the reasons follow (roughly) the biological processes that link increased salt intake to a higher risk of death. Not only does this sequence make more sense logically, but it saves the most important effect for the end.

External Processes:<

Often, reasons that are not logically connected are connected because they refer to some external process that readers know and use to guide their thinking. For example, imagine two cell-phone stores: Phones 4 U, and Elite Telecom. Each store has a different business model: Phones 4 U deals in high volume, selling the most phones to the most people. Elite Telecom specializes in high-end phones for tech-savvy users. Glenn, the buyer at Phones 4 U, and Jonah, the buyer at Elite Telecom, each need to present the store manager with a list of reasons why they should or should not stock Phone X. They have the same information, but they use different orders because their companies follow different steps in making a decision. Phones 4 U has found that the best phone for them is one that reaches the most customers. Glenn makes the following argument to the store manager:
  • Phone X only performs a limited number of functions.
  • Because it performs a limited number of functions, it is cheap to produce.
  • Because it is inexpensive to produce, it can be sold for a very low price.
  • Phones with the lowest price bring in the most customers.
  • Conclusion: We should stock Phone X.
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On the other hand, Jonah, the buyer at the more exclusive, tech-oriented store, Elite Telecom, presents his manager with the same set of reasons, but in the opposite order:
  • Because Phone X is marketed to reach a wide audience, the retail price must be low.
  • Because the price needs to be low, Phone X needs to be cheap to produce.
  • Because Phone X must be cheap to produce, it will perform the least number of functions.
  • Because Phones X performs the fewest functions, it will not meet the needs of Elite Telecom customers.
  • Conclusion: We should not stock Phone X.
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In each case, Glenn and Jonah present the same set of reasons. However, the order in which each manager considers those reasons follows the internal logic of the process by which the company makes its business decisions.