Models of Composition

Definition and Examples

Open Book, Title Page: Montaigne Selected Essays

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In current-traditional rhetoric, the expression models of composition refers to a sequence of essays or themes (compositions) developed according to familiar "patterns of exposition." Also called patterns of development, models of exposition, methods of organization, and methods of development.

Sometimes treated as synonymous with the modes of discourse and other times regarded as subsets of the expository mode, the models of composition typically include the following:

From the late-19th century until recently, the essays in many composition anthologies were organized according to these models, which were presented as conventional methods of organization for students to imitate. Though less common today, this practice is far from obsolete. The popular textbook Patterns of Exposition (Longman, 2011), for example, is now in its 20th edition.

The models of composition have some features in common with the progymnasmata, the ancient Greek sequence of writing assignments that remained influential throughout the Renaissance.


  • "[N]ineteenth-century rhetoricians such as Henry Day and John Genung believed that expository discourse was most effective when it was organized by the patterns the human mind would most easily recognize. These forms included deduction, generalization, exemplification, and so forth, the 'patterns of exposition' still found in composition anthologies today.
    "The view that students can best be taught to present nonfictional subject matter through practice in expository patterns or modes is still widely shared. In fact, as [James A.] Berlin (Rhetoric and Reality) and [Nan] Johnson (Nineteenth-Century Rhetoric) show, expository writing has been the dominant form of text throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In the last several decades, however, dissatisfactions with traditional conceptions of expository discourse have grown." (Katherine E. Rowan, "Exposition." Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition, ed. by Theresa Enos. Taylor & Francis, 1996)
  • "The student will find this broader treatment [of prose forms] advantageous in two ways: (1) By analysis and criticism of standard prose selections as models of composition he will be able to improve his own style; and (2) By analysis and criticism, from the point of view of literature, he will gain valuable help in his study of the English requirements." (Sara E. H. Lockwood and Mary Alice Emerson, Composition and Rhetoric for Higher Schools. Ginn, 1902)
  • "[T]he object of the book . . . is rather to suggest hints to provoke the ingenuity of the student, than to furnish models of composition for his servile imitation." (Ebenezer C. Brewer, A Guide to English Composition. Longmans, 1878)
  • "At the core of The Bedford Reader, ten chapters treat ten methods of development not as boxes to be stuffed full of verbiage but as tools for inventing, for shaping, and, ultimately, for accomplishing a purpose. . . .
    "Taking a realistic approach to the methods even further, we show how writers freely combine the methods to achieve their purpose." (X.J. Kennedy, Dorothy M. Kennedy, Jane E. Aaron, and Ellen Kuhl Repetto, The Bedford Reader, 12th ed. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2014)
  • "The act of reading well seems . . . to go in the opposite direction from the act of writing well. Reading is not rhetoric as putting together, composition, but rhetoric as taking apart, the study of tropes, decomposition. It is easy to see, however, that no skillful composition is possible without that prior act of decomposition practiced through reading models of composition by others. I learn to make a chair by studying the way another man has made a chair, and this probably means taking his handiwork apart to see in detail how he did it. There is no learning to write well without a concomitant learning to read well." (Winifred Bryan Horner, Composition & Literature: Bridging the Gap. University of Chicago Press, 1983)
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Models of Composition." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 28). Models of Composition. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Models of Composition." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).