I will begin this post about signposting by tracing the history of signposts. The unknown author of the Rhetorica ad Herrenium, a Latin rhetorical text long attributed to Cicero, states that every argument ought to open with an expositio. Before I continue, I should define what an expositio is. An expositio is a brief statement at the beginning of an oration in which an orator outlines the three issues he will address with his argument.* Contemporary scholars still follow the model Peter Elbow calls "the old perverse chestnut" ("Reflections on Academic Discourse" 144). Now that I have told what a signpost is and related its long and storied history I will demonstrate why they are useful in academic prose.
In this paragraph I will demonstrate that signposts are useful in academic prose because they alert readers what you are about to argue and when you have proven your point. I will also prove that signposts make you sound smart because if you know what you want to write before you write it you are hot shit. I will address the second point first. Most people when they write cannot include signposts because they do not know what they want to say when they sit down to write. Only very intelligent people are capable of being what Thomas Murray defines as "the morphological metathesis of hot shit" ("The Language of Naval Fighter Pilots" 128). Now that I have definitively proven that intelligent people are hot shit I will address the first point. The first point of this paragraph was that signposts are useful because they inform readers what you will argue and when you are done arguing it. I am now done arguing it.
This paragraph will register my annoyance with what I take to be the overabundance of signposts in academic prose. But before I do that I want to mention the one respect in which signposts are essential. Without signposts it would be difficult to introduce utterly irrelevant material into the body of your work. Maybe you would like to impress someone with your erudition and need to introduce a quotation demonstrating you have read a very difficult book. Or maybe you have simply stumbled upon a newspaper article whose title is too great not to share. I would argue that the following is a salient example of one such article:
Were it not for the mighty power of the signpost I would not have been able to shoehorn the title of that article into this post.** In the previous paragraphs I have defended the usefulness of the signpost in academic prose. The inclusion of that headline demonstrates that signposts are both useful and awesome. Now I will transition to the conclusion of this post by telling you that I am transitioning to the conclusion of this post.
And here I am at the conclusion like I told you I would be. In this conclusion I will recapitulate what I have I already proven in the paragraphs above. The words I wrote in the above paragraphs prove that people who use signposts are perverse old chestnuts who are so hot shit they can include articles about whores in anything they write and that they are awesome. I will now conclude my conclusion with the period I place at the end of this sentence.
*In this footnote I will tell you why the number of issues an orator can address in the body of his argument was limited to three. An orator can address only three issues in the body of his argument for a good reason, I would argue, but I don't know what it is. For more see Search, Google and Internet, The (2008).
**From The New York Times 24 February 1903: 7.