fter you have narrowed your topic, used the aids to invention, and formulated a thesis, you should have a clear idea about your subject and how you will approach your essay. Now, it's time to collect information about your subject and prepare a draft. This is when we start to think about organization: how will you present the information you have about your subject?
rganization is important for two reasons. Not only does it help your readers understand the connection between the details of the essay and your thesis, but also organization itself can help you write the essay in the first place. Yes, true. Planning on a method of organizing your essay will help you determine how to write it. A clear thesis will give your essay purpose and direction, but choosing a pattern of organization before you draft will ensure that every part of your essay works to support and develop that thesis. Ideas as we first conceive them may pour out of our minds in a seemingly random fashion, but a reader (who as a different perspective, background, and ideas) needs the formality of organization to help him/her put all of your ideas together into a coherent pattern. So organizing before you write gives your ideas a structure that you can follow as you develop your draft; it allows you to articulate, analyze, and clarify your thoughts. It will also allow your readers to follow the same line of thinking too. What's more, if you plan the structure for your essay before you begin to search for supporting evidence, you will be able to conduct a more effective and directed search. Thus, deciding on a tentative plan of organization before you write can actually help you write the whole essay.
emember too that it's a tentative plan. Organization is a continuous process, and your tentative organizational plan can change and evolve as you refine your thesis statement or gather your research.
s you begin to plan the organization of the body of your essay, think about the methods you will use to organize the evidence that will support your thesis. Often the method of organization for academic writing is given to you in the assignment itself. For example, the essay topic might explicitly tell you to "Compare and contrast the causes of the 100 Years War." or "Define oligarchy, and give an example of one in contemporary geo-political movements." You will want to choose methods which are most suitable to your subject and the type of essay you have been assigned. Here are some principles of organization:
Explains the term (topic) to be defined by situating the term into the class of objects or concepts to which the term belongs and then enumerating all the differentiating characteristics that distinguish it from all all others of its class. Definitions are often extended in academic, business, and technical writing by the use of illustrations, examples, analogies, history, and citations.
- Time (Chronological) Order:
Separates the subject of the essay into major stages presented in natural time order. (See also chronology within paragraphs.)
Divides the material into major categories and distinguishes between the different categories by explaining the writer's logic in choosing his/her categories.
- Order of Increasing (or Decreasing) Importance:
Arranges paragraphs so that the most important supporting evidence comes last, thus building support for the essay's thesis. Writers sometimes choose to present the evidence in a decreasing order of importance, placing the most important supporting evidence first and finishing with the least important supporting evidence. This decreasing order of importance is most appropriate in journalism or business writing, where the writer knows that editors may likely cut paragraphs to fit the available space in the publication or that readers are likely to want just the central ideas and are unlikely to read all the way to the end of the document.
- Cause and effect:
Indicates causal relationships between things and events relevant to the essay's subject. (A note of caution: do not to mistake coincidence with causality when writing a cause-and-effect essay. See the logic in composition page for a discussion of the two post hoc fallacies.)
- Comparison and contrast:
Involves lining up related ideas for a detailed account of similarities and differences. In this kind of essay it is important to decide whether you will be concentrating on similarities or differences. In general, the more similar things are, the more you concentrate on the differences, and vice versa. If you are comparing two works by the same author, or two love poems, for example, what will most interest you will be the differences between them; if you are comparing an Anglo-Saxon riddle with a science fiction novel the differences will be obvious enough that you will want to focus on the similarities.
lthough one of the methods above will most likely serve as your major organizational method, you may choose a combination of these methods for your essay or report. For example, while the essay as a whole might have its evidence arranged in decreasing order of importance, you might still use comparisons, causes, classification, or chronology too within individual paragraphs of the essay's body. These methods of organization apply both to the essay as a whole and to individual paragraphs.
Patterns of Organization for Essay Assignments
Patterns of organization for essay assignments vary, but the one thing they all have in common is creating a logical and organized way to present information. No particular pattern is perfect for every type of essay, writer or piece of content. Only by carefully considering the information you identified in prewriting and learning about your topic can you decide on the best pattern of organization.
Patterns of organization do two things for your essay assignments. They present information logically, and they present information in an order that stays interesting to your readers. Essentially, patterns put all the pieces together to create a strong and effective essay. Learn about the different patterns or organization below to decide how to best organize your essay.
Chronological pattern of organization
A chronological pattern organizes information as a progression of time. The time can move forward or backward as long as a logical progression takes place. Best suited for topics that are broken into segments of time, a chronological pattern consists of main sections covering a particular period of time and subsections under each main section covering segments or events within the time period of the main section. When you’re writing about a historical topic, this pattern works well.
Sequential pattern of organization
A sequential pattern organized information in a step-by-step process. It is similar to the chronological pattern because the steps occur over a period of time in a particular order. However, the sequential pattern essentially describes the steps in a certain process. The main sections cover each main step, and the subsections cover the sub-steps. This organization allows you to identify the key steps and to provide the detailed process for that step within the subsections. When you’re writing an essay assignment to describe a process that occurs in a series of steps, the sequential pattern works well.
Climactic pattern of organization
A climactic pattern organizes information from the least important to the most important. As your essay assignment develops and builds throughout the essay, the crescendo of information holds the attention of readers. In essence, you’re saving the best information and part of the essay for last. When you’re writing an essay that builds up to a finishing point, your journey to winning a medal for example, the climactic pattern works well.
Reverse climactic pattern of organization
A reverse climactic pattern organizes information in the exact opposite of the climactic pattern: the most important information precedes the least important. Use caution in choosing this method. While it works well in journalism with the inverted pyramid style of writing, it makes it more difficult to keep your readers’ attention in essay assignments. Using your journey to winning a medal as an example, your essay would start with the act of winning the medal and work backward through the process that got you to that point.
Spatial pattern of organization
A spatial pattern organizes information in a way that leads your readers from one point to the next according to how things fit within a physical space. It allows you to create a mental picture of the parts of something using description to describe psychical location. When you’re writing about geography or explaining multiple things located in different locations (think of a to-do list for a popular city), for example, the spatial pattern works well.
Topical pattern of organization
A topical pattern organizes information into subtopics that fall into larger topics, or examples of types falling into a category. When another pattern of organization doesn’t work, the topical approach generally does; think of it as the catchall pattern. For this reason, it is the most commonly used pattern of organization for essay assignments. If you were writing about cheeses, for example, you would have types of cheese as a larger topic and the individual types as subtopics.
Whatever pattern of organization you use for your essay assignments, make sure to consider any specific instructions from your instructor first by thoroughly reading and understanding the assignment. While these are some of the most common patterns not covered in a specific essay format, they are not the only patterns of organization. Always consider the scope and nature of your topic to pick the pattern best suited to writing a strong paper.