Patterns of organization can help readers follow the ideas within a text, but they can also work as methods of development to help readers recognize ideas and relationships. Here are some strategies that can help you identify organization in texts.
Major Patterns of Organization
Read the following sentences:
- Now take the pie out of the oven and let it cool on the stovetop.
- Mix the dry ingredients with the liquid ingredients.
- Set the pie crust aside while you make the filling.
How did it feel to read the above list? A bit confusing, I would guess. That’s because the steps for making a pie were not well organized, and the steps don’t include enough detail for us to know exactly what we should do. (For example, what are the dry and liquid ingredients?) We all know that starting instructions from the beginning and giving each detailed step in the order it should happen is vital to having a good outcome, in this case a yummy pie! But it’s not always so simple to know how to organize or develop ideas, and sometimes there’s more than one way, which complicates things even further.
First, let’s take a look at a couple of ways to think about organization.
General to Specific or Specific to General
It might be useful to think of a triangle when determining how a reading is organized:
The first triangle represents starting with the most general, big picture information first, moving then to more detailed and often more personal information later in the paper. The second triangle represents an organizational structure that starts with the specific, small scale information first and then moves to the more global, big picture stuff.
For example, if an author's topic is air pollution in Portland, Oregon, an essay that uses the general-to-specific organizational structure might begin this way:
Many people consider Portland, Oregon, to be an environmentally friendly, pollution-free place to live. They would be shocked to know how many pollutants are in the air causing a multitude of health problems in Portland’s citizens.
An essay that uses the specific-to-general organizational structure might start like this:
When Nancy moved to Portland, Oregon, with her husband and two kids, she expected to find a clean, pollution-free city. She was shocked and angered when her daughter was diagnosed with asthma caused by air pollution.
What’s the difference between these two introductions? And how might they appeal to the intended audience for this essay (Portland voters) in different ways? The first introduction is looking at the big picture of the problem and mentions pollution’s impact on all citizens in Portland, while the second introduction focuses on one specific family. The first helps readers see how vast the problem really is, and the second helps connect readers to a real family, making an emotional appeal from the very beginning. Neither introduction is necessarily better.
There are Other Ways Authors Organize Their Ideas
Authors may also include some of the following ways of organizing their ideas, along with signal words for those patterns of organization:
- Cause and effect (shows different causes and effects of situations)
- as a result
- for this reason
- in effect
- Chronological order (the order in time that events take place)
- first, second, third
- before, after
- Compare and contrast (differences and similarities; ideas are organized together because of their relationship to each other)
- in the same way
- bigger than, smaller than
- Definition and example (terms are defined and further explained with examples)
- is defined as
- refers to
- is described as
- is called
- Sequential order (similar to chronological order; arranges items in step-by-step order within a particular process)
- first, second, third
- Simple listing (random listing of items where order does not matter)
- in addition
- a number of
- for example
- Spatial (description of the arrangement or location of items within a physical space)
- next to
- over, under
- north, south, east, west
License and Attributions:
CC licensed content, Previously shared:
The Word on College Reading and Writing. Authored by: Carol Burnell, Jaime Wood, Monique Babin, Susan Pesznecker, and Nicole Rosevear. Located at: https://human.libretexts.org/Workshops/Workshop_University/draft_ENG101/04%3A_Writing/4.08%3A_Patterns_of_Organization_and_Methods_of_Development
License: CC BY: Attribution.
Adaptions: Reformatted, some content removed to fit a broader audience.