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1.5: Methods of Organizing Your Writing

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    The method of organization for essays and paragraphs is just as important as content. When you begin to draft an essay or paragraph, your ideas may seem to flow from your mind in a seemingly random manner; however, your readers, who bring to the table different backgrounds, viewpoints, and ideas, need you to clearly organize these ideas to help them draw connections between the body and the thesis. A solid organizational pattern not only helps readers to process and accept your ideas, but also gives your ideas a path that you can follow as you develop your essay (or paragraph). Knowing how you will organize your paragraphs allows you to better express and analyze your thoughts. In addition, planning the structure of your essay before you choose supporting evidence helps you conduct more effective and targeted research. This section covers three ways to organize both essays and paragraphs: chronological order, order of importance, and spatial order.

    Chronological Order

    Chronological arrangement has the following purposes:

    • To explain the history of an event or a topic
    • To tell a story or relate an experience
    • To explain how to do or to make something
    • To explain the steps in a process

    Chronological order is mostly used in expository writing, which is a form of writing that narrates, describes, informs, or explains a process. When using chronological order, arrange the events in the order that they actually happened, or will happen if you are giving instructions. This method requires you to use words such as first, second, then, after that, later, and finally. These transition words guide you and your reader through the paper as you expand your thesis. For example, if you are writing an essay about the history of the airline industry, you would begin with its conception and detail the essential timeline events up until present day. You would follow the chain of events using words such as first, then, next, and so on. Keep in mind that chronological order is most appropriate for the following purposes:

    • Writing essays containing heavy research
    • Writing essays with the aim of listing, explaining, or narrating
    • Writing essays that analyze literary works such as poems, plays, or books

    When using chronological order, your introduction should indicate the information you will cover and should also establish the relevance of the information. Your body paragraphs should then provide clear divisions or steps in chronology. You can divide your paragraphs by time (such as decades, wars, or other historical events) or by the same structure of the work you are examining (such as a line-by-line explication of a poem).

    Exercise 12

    Choose an accomplishment you have achieved in your life. The important moment could be in sports, schooling, or extracurricular activities. On your own sheet of paper, list the steps you took to reach your goal. Try to be as specific as possible with the steps you took. Pay attention to using transition words to focus your writing.

    Exercise 13

    On a separate sheet of paper, write a paragraph that describes a process you are familiar with and can do well. Assume that your reader is unfamiliar with the procedure. Remember to use the chronological key words, such as first, second, then, and finally.

    Order of Importance

    Order of importance is best used for the following purposes:

    • Persuading and convincing
    • Ranking items by their importance, benefit, or significance
    • Illustrating a situation, problem, or solution

    Most essays move from the least to the most important point, and the paragraphs are arranged in an effort to build the essay’s strength. Sometimes, however, it is necessary to begin with the most important supporting point, such as in an essay that contains a thesis that is highly debatable. When writing a persuasive essay, it is best to begin with the most important point because it immediately captivates your readers and compels them to continue reading.

    For example, if you were supporting your thesis that homework is detrimental to the education of high school students, you would want to present your most convincing argument first, and then move on to the less important points for your case. During your career, you may be required to work on a team that devises a strategy for a specific goal of your company, such as increasing profits. When planning your strategy you should organize your steps in order of importance. This demonstrates the ability to prioritize and plan. Using the order of importance technique also shows that you can create a resolution with logical steps for accomplishing a common goal.

    Exercise 14

    On a separate sheet of paper, write a paragraph that discusses a passion of yours. Your passion could be music, a particular sport, filmmaking, and so on. Your paragraph should be built upon the reasons why you feel so strongly. Briefly discuss your reasons in the order of least to greatest importance.

    Spatial Order

    Spatial order is best used for the following purposes:

    • Helping readers visualize something as you want them to see it
    • Evoking a scene using the senses (sight, touch, taste, smell, and sound)
    • Writing a descriptive essay

    Spatial order means that you explain or describe objects as they are arranged around you in your space, for example in a bedroom. As the writer, you create a picture for your readers, and their perspective is the viewpoint from which you describe what is around you. The view must move in an orderly, logical progression, giving the reader clear directional signals to follow from place to place. The key to using this method is to choose a specific starting point and then guide the reader to follow your eye as it moves in an orderly trajectory from your starting point. Pay attention to the following student’s description of her bedroom and how she guides the reader through the viewing process, foot by foot.

    Attached to my back bedroom wall is a small wooden rack dangling with red and turquoise necklaces that shimmer as I enter. Just to the right of the rack, billowy white curtains frame a large window with a sill that ends just six inches from the floor. The peace of such an image is a stark contrast to my desk, sitting to the right of the window, layered in textbooks, crumpled papers, coffee cups, and an overflowing ashtray. Turning my head to the right, I see a set of two bare windows that frame the trees outside the glass like a three-dimensional painting. Below the windows is an oak chest from which blankets and scarves are protruding. Against the wall opposite the billowy curtains is an antique dresser, on top of which sits a jewelry box and a few picture frames. A tall mirror attached to the dresser takes up much of the lavender wall.

    The paragraph incorporates two objectives covered in this chapter: using an implied topic sentence and applying spatial order. Often in a descriptive essay, the two objectives work together. The following are possible transition words to include when using spatial order:

    • Just to the left or just to the right
    • Behind
    • Between
    • On the left or on the right
    • Across from
    • A little further down
    • To the south, to the east, and so on
    • A few yards away
    • Turning left or turning right

    Exercise 15

    On a separate sheet of paper, write a paragraph using spatial order that describes your commute to work, school, or another location you visit often.

    Collaboration: Please share with a classmate and compare your answers.

    key takeaways

    • The way you organize your body paragraphs ensures you and your readers stay focused on and draw connections to your thesis statement.
    • A strong organizational pattern allows you to articulate, analyze, and clarify your thoughts.
    • Planning the organizational structure for your essay before you begin to search for supporting evidence helps you conduct more effective and directed research.
    • Chronological order is most commonly used in expository writing. It is useful for explaining the history of your subject, for telling a story, or for explaining a process.
    • Order of importance is most appropriate in a persuasion paper as well as for essays in which you rank things, people, or events by their significance.
    • Spatial order describes things as they are arranged in space and is best for helping readers visualize something as you want them to see it; it creates a dominant impression.
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