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Grad. Studies Home

Organization:  3 Simple Ways to Structure your Thoughts

Once you've decided on what you want to say, the next decision is how to organize those ideas.

Although some documents will require their own overall organization (an APA research document, for instance, generally calls for title page, abstract, introduction, method, results, discussion, references, and appendix, in that specific order), you still need to decide which idea to place where within each of those sections.

There are 3 basic schemes for organizing ideas within paragraphs and paragraphs within essays.

Time

clock

When appropriate, use chronological (first to last) order. A work history, for instance, would normally start with the first job and continue in chronological order up through the latest job.

Some documents, such as resumes, use reverse chronological order, starting at the present job--the most important--and then working back in time to the earliest job.

 

Space

glasses

Some documents are best organized spatially.  A description of your workplace, for instance, might start from the entrance way and proceed office by office, following the path a visitor might take.

Importance

→ !!!

!!!  

When neither chronological nor spatial organization seems appropriate, you can organize your ideas in order of importance, either starting with the least important idea and working up to the most important or starting with the most important topic and working back to the least important.

Newspaper reporters, for instance, put the main facts in the opening paragraph, to capture the reader's attention.  A persuasive argument, on the other hand, might start instead with less important points, building up the argument along the way to prepare the reader to accept the main point at the end.

Keep in mind that ideas don't necessarily occur to you in the order that they are best presented in your writing.  One of your main tasks when editing a first draft is checking whether you have expressed your ideas in the best and most logical order for your purpose. If not, use that cut and paste command!