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Essay Organization and Flow

Essay Organization and Flow

Author: Gavin McCall
Description:

This lesson teaches the concept of essay organization with an emphasis on flow.

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Welcome to English Composition. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.

What are we going to learn today? We're going to learn all about essay organization, the ways that the order of details can change the reader's perception of a text, and we'll look at a couple of different ways that writers can achieve an effective flow, before checking out an example essay that does not.

For the purposes of composition, we'll define essay organization as the order in which a writer chooses to present his or her ideas, claims, and support. This pattern of organization is sometimes called the essay structure, or form. There's no one perfect way for writer to organize an essay, though sometimes a specific assignment will have certain requirements as to structure and form.

Generally though, writers have a lot of freedom when it comes to deciding how to organize a piece of writing. And ideally, the organization of an essay should flow logically from one point to the next, so the development of ideas, and support for the thesis makes sense, and feels appropriate to the reader. It might seem like a daunting prospect to organize an entire essay, especially when we discuss them in broad terms like this. But remember, the writing process is one that you have control over. So feel free to experiment. After all, it's just a draft, and you can always cut and move items around in different stages of the writing process-- primarily when pre-writing, drafting, and revising.

When an essay is at it's best, the ideas and claims in it are presented in such a way that they build on one another as the text goes on. That way, the reader will feel that the ideas flow seamlessly. This isn't easy to do, nor is there a single formula for it. There are, however, a few common strategies writers use to organize their ideas. One of the most common structures is called emphatic, this means sequencing details based on complexity, importance, or desired emphasis. Usually, this means the writer puts whatever ideas and points he or she thought were most important first, and so on. But don't worry. We'll talk more about this kind of order soon.

For now though, another common kind of sequence is chronological, where details are organized based on the physical sequence of events. And the third perhaps less used, but not necessarily less effective system for organizing details, is spatial. This is when a writer sequences the details of his or her essay, based on location and space, or on a visual composition.

It should also be mentioned here that these strategies aren't mutually exclusive. It's very possible for a writer to make use of more than one method within the same composition. Like so much else about writing, it all depends on the author's purpose.

It's very common for essay writers to arrange their ideas in order to highlight or emphasize certain ideas over or before others. Two of the most common ways to do this are to go from simple to complex, and from complex to simple. A classic way to organize an argument is moving from the simplest most obvious or at least controversial point, idea, or claim, and then to go on to the next simplest, and so on, saving the most complicated, least obvious, or most controversial points or ideas for last. This approach is based on the logic that understanding a complicated idea, relies on first understanding the simpler ones, and therefore, they should come earlier in the essay. This is sometimes called the latter approach to writing.

Another way to organize essays is to do the opposite, by putting the most complicated or controversial point, idea, or claim first, and then allowing the simpler, or less contentious points, to support the first one. The logic of this approach hinges on the assumption that the complicated or controversial idea should be presented as early as possible, so the readers have time to think about and be convinced of it, as we go through the text, with each supporting point contributing to the whole effect.

But no matter what order a writer chooses to use in a given essay, the important thing is that he or she is thinking critically about the order details, and how best to make the ideas flow.

And now we've looked at different ways writers organizer essays. Let's look at a couple examples. This first text is part of a poorly organized essay. Follow along as I read it, and why you do, try to identify the thesis, and whatever other point you can find. And be on the lookout, too, for an organizational strategy.

What is crime? Literally, crime is define as whatever actions a government says are legal. But to explain its nature, and why some acts are legal, while others are not, is a much more difficult task. Our perspectives on crime and criminals can drastically change the way said criminals are treated by our justice system. As a man-made concept, crime is by definition arbitrary. Its nature depends on the views and opinions of the people and/or governments involved. For example, the US legal systems largely influenced by the media, and has what many will call a justice system that focuses on the sensational. However, in such countries, as Afghanistan, or Indonesia, the government is heavily influenced by religious beliefs, acts defined as criminal tend to follow closely those thought to be immoral by their religious teachings.

While it is true that the majority of felons are poor and/or minorities, the vast majority of poor people in members of minority groups do not commit crimes. While you may not be more likely to be a criminal if you are poor or of a minority group, it is certain that if you do commit a crime, you are more likely to be punished, and more severely.

Now as you can probably tell for my reading, the portion of this essay we've got here needs some work. The thesis seems fairly clear. But let's look at what comes next. How does the sentence, for example, work to support the thesis? It's obviously a supporting idea-- one they should probably be introduced differently. Notice how jarring it is to go from what we think will be a discussion of the way criminals are treated, to talking about the arbitrary nature of crime. And again, towards the bottom, there seems to be a disconnect between the discussion of what a government considers criminal, and how criminals of different backgrounds are treated. Both of these are subtopics of the broader thesis. But since the text isn't doing enough to link them, it seems kind of arbitrary, doesn't it?

Now take a look at this version. Here, I've taken the same portion of the same essay and rearranged it a little. Follow along. And as you do, try to see what's different, and watch, as well listen, for the flow of ideas.

What is crime? Literally, crime is defined as whatever actions the government says are legal. But to explain its nature, and why some acts are illegal while others are not is a much more difficult task. As a man-made concept, crime is by definition arbitrary. It's nature depends on the views and opinions of the people, and/or governments involved. For example, the US legal system is larger influenced by the media, and has what many would call a justice system that focuses on the sensational. However, in such countries as Afghanistan or Indonesia, the government is heavily influenced by religious beliefs. Acts defined as criminal tend to follow closely those thought to be immoral by the religious teachings.

Our perspectives on crime and criminals can drastically change the way said criminals are treated by our justice system. While it is true that the majority of felons are poor and/or minorities, the vast majority of poor people and members of minority groups do not commit crimes. While you may not be more likely to be a criminal if you're poor or of a minority group, it is certain that, if you do commit a crime, you're more likely to be punished, and more severely.

Here we've got the same introduction lines, and the thesis seems intact. But now the first main idea to come up after it, is an idea of crime being arbitrary. This is, in my opinion at least, a more logical connection to make. Notice how the ideas flow from asking what crime is, to taking about how, why, and by whom it's defined. Then, by putting the discussion about treatment of criminals at the end of the section, I've helped to prepare readers to change gears. Even though the focus of the essay does shift a little here, it should seem, it should feel, like a more deliberate, conscious shift. And that's part of the point. As a writer, you never want your readers to question why you did or read whatever you do or say. You want them to be paying attention to your ideas, your arguments, and your points, not to the text or its organization.

Ideally, your sentences and paragraphs should be the deliverers of content-- unnoticed, because they flow so easily from one to the next. Not that I'm saying that's what's happening here, but it's closer, at least. And that's the other point of organization, making each draft a little better than the last.

What have we learned today? We learned about organizing essays, looking at different ways writers can and do order they're details, ideas, and points. Then we looked at a couple examples of an essay. So now, we can see how much of a difference a little organization can make. I'm Gavin McCall. Thanks for joining me.

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Essay Organization

    The order in which a writer chooses to present his ideas, claims, and support.