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5.10: Arrangement Principles

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    Putting Together Your Elements for a Desired Effect

    You should have before you now a series of completed elements or modes that address your object or place. If you have not already, get these edited by your instructor until they are each perfected. The next step is the key to understanding personal writing, composing, and arranging. It is a simple idea that we borrow from art, architecture, music, and other design arts. It is, however, much different from way we are used to writing.

    Most Common Question: “How do I organize my elements?”

    The best way to “compose” or “arrange” your elements is according to some kind of design principle or principles.

    A design principle is what organizes the essay for you. In fact, any question that you have about which words to use, which sections to use, which elements to use, what spacing to use, what format to use, what order to use, what to omit, how to make it flow, how to keep it from flowing, how long it should be, or practically any other question, should be answered by the design principle you develop.


    What effect do I want to have on my reader?

    The first and probably most important point in a design process is determining the effect we want to have on the reader (you answered this in your topic writing). Once you decide what effect you wish to have on the reader, many other design decisions are easy to make. In other words, how we arrange and change the elements in an essay is based on what effect we want it to have. One object I have used in this program is the candle. I must first decide what effect I want to have on my reader.

    What effect does my object have on me?

    The candle represents to me a person who was very important in my life. I want the reader to feel that. How do I act out that importance?

    I light the candle every year on the day she died. Doing that every year has the effect of not forgetting her.

    How can this object have the same or similar effect on my reader?

    How do I get you to feel what I feel about this candle? I remember my friend when I light it once a year. In other words, I repeat the act of lighting the candle once every year, and the effect of doing that helps me remember her.

    Design/Organizational Principles

    What organizational principle can I use to reinforce, mirror, or reproduce this effect?

    Once I decide what effect I want to have, then I decide what kinds of organizational principles reinforce, highlight, suggest, or otherwise support that effect. Some basic organizational principles include the following:

    Organizational Principles:

    • Repetition (and Non-repetition)
    • Symmetry (and Asymmetry)
    • Balance (and Imbalance)
    • Structure (and Non-structure)
    • Order (and Disorder)

    Please note that each of these has an opposite that is just as much a choice as the basic principle; for example, for “balance,” you may choose to make “imbalance” the principle around which you organize your essay. There is also asymmetry, non-repetition, unstructured, and disorder. The point is that whatever principle or principles reinforce the effect, those are the ones you should use to organize the elements of your already written essay draft.

    In my example, I want to use repetition as an organizing principle, because I repeat the act of lighting the candle. I also repeat this act at regular intervals (yearly). It is also a simple act. Therefore, what I want to repeat is “lighting the candle.” A very simple way to reinforce the effect of repeating the act of lighting the candle is to repeat a single, simple sentence at regular intervals.

    Here is a simple sentence:

    I light a candle every year to remember my friend.

    In order to employ repetition as an organizing principle, I can repeat the same simple sentence, or a variation of it, at the end of every one of my elements, or at least at regular intervals – in the same way I repeat the act of lighting the candle at regular intervals as a simple act of remembering my friend. I hope the repetition will trigger a similar reaction (effect) in you (the reader).

    I might also use the principle of symmetry to make the amount of writing approximately the same between the repeated sentences. For longer elements, I may have to insert the sentence halfway through, and for shorter elements, I may have to combine 2 or more in order to keep the spacing between the repeated sentences more or less even.

    Another principle I might use is order. How do I put these elements in order? Again, I check my effect. I want this to reflect the amount of time that has passed since my friend passed away. Therefore, I want the elements to go in some sort of chronological order.


    How do I arrange (compose) my elements?

    The next step is to look at your elements (your written draft) and try to arrange, delete, add to, and otherwise change them to have the effect (based on some organizational principle) that you want it to have on your readers. The point here is that all our arrangement decisions are governed by that principle or principles, which in turn are governed by the effect. Since my most obvious time-related elements are my anecdote and history, I want to make sure they are in chronological order. Then I just insert other elements to make the spacing proper for the symmetry principle above.

    An Essay Schematic

    Here is a possible arrangement of my elements according to the design principle I have sketched out above:

    Example \(\PageIndex{1}\):


    [I have looked at my Anecdote and the anecdotes in my History and put the earliest one – earliest anecdote in the chronology of my life – first. Next, I add the sentence that I constructed above to the end of the first element (Anecdote)]: I light a candle every year to remember my friend.


    [Here I insert my entire description of the candle, and then add the repeated sentence to the end of the element]: I light a candle every year to remember my friend.

    Another Anecdote

    [Here I borrow one of the anecdotes from the History element, and add the repeated sentence]: I light a candle every year to remember my friend.


    [This element helps the reader understand how I look at (define) the candle – then I add the sentence]: I light a candle every year to remember my friend.

    Another Anecdote

    [From the History element.] Plus, I light a candle every year to remember my friend.


    [I put the second half of the Comparison element – the part that describes a similar object – here.] I then add: I light a candle every year to remember my friend.

    Another Anecdote

    [The last one from my History element.] + I light a candle every year to remember my friend.

    Most Common Question: “Don’t I need transitions between elements, or don’t I need to make them flow?”

    The answer to this question is the same as the answer to almost all formatting, usage, punctuation, arrangement, and even grammatical questions about this kind of essay: it depends upon your design principle!

    If “making my essay flow” somehow intensifies the effect, and so is compatible with your design principles, then you need transitions. However, if part of the effect involves moving abruptly from one thing to another, then you do not want transitions.

    Other Examples of Arrangement

    Please note that these are not the only principles we may use. Use whatever principle(s) your object/place suggests.

    For example, I might choose a creek to focus on in this essay. I might choose to talk about this creek as a place where I played as a kid. What I want to emphasize might be how it meanders across the fields where we played. In other words, I want the effect on the reader to be “meandering.” How can I make that idea reflect in my writing (in other words, how can I organize my writing so that the reader gets the effect of “meandering?”)?

    There are several things I can do. I can choose the most “meandering” writing elements that I have. “Description” comes to mind, because of its long, flowing sentences. There are other places (comparison, definition, parts of narrative, history) where I used some description, or at least long, flowing sentences. I can, for example, be sure my essay begins and ends with meandering, flowing sentences.

    Another way I can organize with the effect “meandering” might be with a sort of randomness. That is, my stories and analysis, for example, may not come where the reader expects them, or they may not have much of a point, or they may be interrupted unexpectedly by parts of other elements, and so on.

    All of these “principles of organizing” (or in this case, “disorganizing”) support the effect I want to have on the reader (in this case, random, meandering, flowing, and slightly disorganized writing).

    Once again, the point is to let the effect you want for your object or place dictate the principles around which you will organize the elements that you have already written.

    Articulate a Design Principle

    You are now ready to write a design principle statement. This is what helps you decide how to arrange your essay.

    Please note the following: What you write down for this section does not go in your essay. It will go in your portfolio ahead of your completed final essay on a separate page. On a separate sheet of paper, write down the effect you want your essay to have, what principles of arrangement or organization you plan to use to achieve this effect, and how you carry this out in arranging your essay. In other words:

    What effect do I want to have on my reader?

    What organizational principle(s) do I wish to use to reinforce the effect?

    How can I arrange the elements in this essay to reflect the organizational principle(s)?

    Here are some example design principle statements (I have highlighted the words that answer the 3 questions above):

    Example \(\PageIndex{2}\):

    I want the reader to feel the ritual I perform every year when I light this candle. I will reinforce this regular yearly ritual by repeating the idea of lighting the candle. I will do this by repeating the same sentence four times at regular intervals at the end of anecdotes. I will arrange the essay in chronological order by beginning and ending with an anecdote, splitting the history anecdotes and ending with the latest, and inserting other elements to make the spacing between that repeated sentence about the same.


    I want the reader to feel the unstructured freedom of play when we were kids, especially the way I felt playing along the creek, which meandered all along the valley. I will reinforce this sense of aimless, unstructured meandering by making my essay loosely structured and somewhat unorganized. To make it reflect this I will arrange the essay by starting and ending with the long flowing sentences of my description element, and by starting and ending every element with the part of that element that describes, or at least has the longest, most flowing sentences. Some will be short, but most will be very long. I will combine the short ones into longer ones so that most sections seem longer than they have to be.


    I want the reader to feel the jarring, unnerving irritation of the air horn that kept bowing behind me at the basketball game. I will reinforce this idea of irritation by irritating and frustrating the reader at every turn. I will do this by using disorder and chaos. Maybe I will randomly throw in the words AIR HORN 2 or 3 times each paragraph. I will arrange the essay by splitting and interrupting and just ending each element at places that make no sense to the reader. I will randomly use punctuation. I will stop in mid sentence. I will break every rule I know about printing I can think of to irritate the reader. It will be difficult to read, but the reader will still be able to understand that all this is about an irritating air horn.

    Composing (arrangement)

    Now arrange (compose) the elements in your essay according to your design principle statement. Have fun with this and be creative. Remember that it is the effect on the reader that is the most important idea here. And the fact that you tell me in a design statement what you are doing (and why) allows you to do whatever you want to accomplish the effect you are after.

    Add phrase/statement level patterns

    Here are some sentence patterns that further emphasize both the effect and the meaning of what you have written. They are used to emphasize a point or for a desired effect. Remember, they are used for emphasis. Use these patterns sparingly in an essay or speech.

    Repetition Patterns

    Asyndeton (Omitting conjunctions)

    He has learned to change, to live, to love. [No “and” before final element in a list]

    Polysyndeton (Adding conjunctions)

    She learns, and what she learns she cherishes, and what she cherishes she changes, and what she changes she learns to live with.

    Anaphora (Same initial words/phrases in series)

    Life is learning to change our minds, learning to change those things we find changeable, and learning to change from what we are to what we must become.

    Epistrophe (Same ending words/phrases in series)

    We are taught to change; society accepts it, survival demands it, learning depends upon it, and life progresses through it.

    Alliteration (Repeated sounds in series)

    A little love makes learning a lifelong ambition.

    Question Patterns

    Rhetorical question (Tag)

    Is life not made up of changing, learning, and changing some more?

    Change is the only thing that is always constant, is it not?

    Rhetorical question (Commonly understood)

    When will it all change? [Answer implied or unstated]

    Simple Question + Answer

    What do we learn from change? We learn flexibility.

    Interruption Patterns

    Interrupted syntax

    All of us – learner or teacher, giver or taker, meddler or preacher – bend to the forces of change.

    Aside (Parenthetical)

    Life (at least one that is full of love and full of learning) is constantly changing.

    Balance Patterns

    Symmetry (Similar number/size elements before and after linking verb)

    Life means change.

    A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

    Balanced elements

    He who enters the arena of change also loves the game of life.

    Antithesis (Opposite balanced elements)

    Some look around at the way things are and ask, “Why?” –

    I dream about the way things might be and ask, “Why not?”

    Chiasmus (Reversed balanced elements)

    In order to live with change we must change the way we live.

    This page titled 5.10: Arrangement Principles is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Stephen V. Poulter.

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