Here at the UNC Charlotte Writing Resources Center, you will often hear many of our tutors refer to “higher order concerns” and “lower order concerns,” or “HOCs” and “LOCs.”
Have you ever wondered exactly what these terms mean and why tutors use them? Well, this post will teach you all about it!
According to the Purdue OWL, Higher Order Concerns (HOCs) are elements that make up the “bigger picture” of your paper, like your thesis statement, your hypothesis, your audience, your purpose, your focus, organization, development, etc.
Lower Order Concerns (LOCs) on the other hand, are more minor elements that make up your paper, like grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, citation style/formatting, etc. Working together, both HOCs and LOCs are the foundation of your paper. If you don’t focus on HOCs and LOCs when you write and revise, then mayhem may ensue. I am exaggerating of course, but to better understand HOCs and LOCs, let’s imagine this scenario:
Let’s pretend that your professor assigned you two papers to read that were written by fellow (anonymous) classmates, and asks you to write one paragraph summarizing each.
- Paper #1 has perfect grammar, punctuation, citation style, etc., and addresses all LOCs… yet you still have trouble reading it. You try to highlight a thesis statement so you can better understand the author’s argument, but you cannot find one because the author is arguing multiple different, contradicting points. Even though this paper seems perfectly fine if you just glance at it, you realize it has some serious issues in regards to content. You make it to the end of this paper and cannot even understand what it is about, so you struggle to write a few sentences about it in response.
- Paper #2 has a few grammar and punctuation mistakes scattered throughout it, but as you read, you find yourself simply overlooking and even auto-correcting those mistakes. Even though there are mistakes, you clearly understand the author’s argument and even find that you learn some new things! Because the author, when writing, made a point to address all the HOCs, you are able to make it through this paper easily. When you finish reading, you have a solid idea of the purpose and argument of the paper, and you have no trouble writing one paragraph (even though you could write more!) summarizing the paper.
When you return to class next, your professor asks you which paper you prefer. So, which paper would you choose?
Okay, so I can’t know which paper you would actually choose, (I wish I were psychic!) but if it were me, I would choose paper #2. Why?
Well, paper #1 did have perfect grammar, punctuation, spelling, citation style, etc., it’s true! However, paper #1 still had some serious HOCs that the author didn’t address as they wrote and revised, which made the paper almost illegible and the meaning almost meaningless. Even though paper #2 did have some LOCs that the author failed to address, its content was understandable, and overall, that’s what matters most!
You’re probably wondering, why is this important? And why are these concerns demarcated as “higher” and “lower” order? Shouldn’t a writer take both HOCs and LOCs into account when they write and revise?
HOCs are “higher” order because they are more essential to the meaning of your writing. As you saw in the example, paper #1 may as well have been written in an ancient code! Because the writer of that paper did not address HOCs as they were writing and revising, the paper wasn’t as efficient as paper #2, which did address HOCs. Paper #2, even though the author missed a few LOCs as they wrote and revised, was at least understandable. The audience of paper #2 may have noticed the grammar, punctuation, and spelling mistakes, but what mattered most was that they could understand the thesis, purpose, and overall argument of the paper and hear the author’s voice. In the end, that’s what is most important.
Yes, in an ideal world we would all take HOCs and LOCs into account as we write and revise, but hey—nobody’s perfect! We can’t all address every single detail of everything we write, so it’s always a good idea to have another pair of eyes on the lookout for HOCs and LOCs, in addition to your own.
So, now you know exactly what HOCs and LOCs are all about and why we use these terms in the WRC. Now that you know this, go forth into the world! Keep HOCs and LOCs in your mind as you write, revise, (and revise, probably multiple times again,) and they will definitely help you out!
“Higher Order Concerns (HOCs) and Lower Order Concerns (LOCs).” The Purdue OWL Online Writing Lab. 1 March, 2013, https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/690/01/
Helpful resources about HOCs and LOCs: