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Organizing your paper

Organizing your paper

Author: Dan Reade
  1. Introduce common organizing structures/patterns of organization and outlining.

  2. Explain how to choose an appropriate organizing structure (pattern of organization) that is appropriate to the purpose and audience.

  3. Explain how to sustain an appropriate organizing structure throughout the body of the paper.

This packet should help a learner seeking to understand how to prepare to write a paper and who is confused about how to organize a paper. It will explain several common organizing structures.

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Introduction to Organizational Patterns

The following slideshow introduces seven common organizational patterns that are frequently used in both essays and in speeches. Knowing the organizational patterns is the first step towards deciding which pattern is appropriate for any given essay or presentation.

Source: Dan Reade

Choosing the Appropriate Organizational Pattern

Choosing the organizational pattern usually comes after a writer has determined the purpose, thesis, and arguments for his or her essay. The writer should also be keep his or her audience in mind. Once the writer knows these things, the writer can use the following series of steps to determine which organizational pattern may be bestfor the essay.

  1. Is an organizational pattern part of the assignment? For some school essays, the instructor will assign a particular organizational pattern to use. In these instances, use the organizational pattern chosen by the instructor. If the instructor has not chosen a particular organizational pattern, then...
  2. Is the purpose of the essay informative or persuasive? Informative essays are those that are meant to teach the audience about a particular topic. Persuasive essays are those that are meant to convince the audience to think or act in a certain way. For informative essays, the time sequence, spatial, and topical patterns may work best. For persuasive essays, the problem-solution, cause-effect, compare-contrast, and emphatic patterns may work best.
  3. For informative essays, what is the easiest way to divide up the topic? If the topic can be divided up into a series of events, then the time sequence pattern may work best. The time sequence also works best of the topic involves a narrative or story. If the topic can be divided up into a series of places or physical items, then the spatial pattern may work best. If the topic can be divided up into a series of related groups, than the topical pattern may work best.
  4. For persuasive essays, is the intended audience likely to be supportive of the essay's thesis or be opposed to the essay's thesis? For topics where the audience is likely to be supportive of the essay's thesis, then the comparison-contrast or cause-effect patterns may work best. These patterns in general (though not always) tend to involve focusing more on solutions than problems. A supportive audience will in general agree with the author as to something being a problem, and as such are going to be more interested in learning how to solve that problem. The comparison-contrast and cause-effect patterns are well suited for these. For an audience that is likely to be opposed to the essay's thesis, the problem-solution and emphatic patterns may work best. These patterns in general (though not always) tend to involve focusing on why something is an issue, which works best for an audience who is opposed (and therefore skeptical of) the essay's thesis (i.e. why something is even a problem to begin with).
  5. Does a particular organizational pattern seem more appropriate? As authors grow in skill, they tend to learn which organizational patterns work best for which topics. If a certain organizational pattern seems most appropriate when reviewing an essay's thesis and evidence, then that may be the best choice.

Source: Dan Reade

How To Sustain An Organizational Pattern Through An Essay

Once a writer has chosen an organizational pattern, the next challenge becomes how to use and sustain that pattern throughout the essay. The primary ways to do this are through the use of an outline and through revision. An outline helps the writer to see all of his or her points in summary and to focus on how to order those points so that the points follow the organizational pattern the writer has chosen. Revision helps the writer double check that his or her essay is following that pattern. The PDF below discusses both the construction of an outline and other revision techniques, all of which can be used to make sure an essay follows the appropriate organizational pattern.


Source: Creative Commons: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

How to Sustain an Organizational Pattern Throughout an Essay

Once a writer has chosen an organizational pattern, the next challenge becomes how to use and sustain that pattern throughout the essay. The primary way to do this is through the use of an outline. The video below gives a short yet excellent description of how to develop an outline.

When watching the video, notice the pattern the author uses to organize his topic. Can you identify it? The author in the video is using the emphatic pattern, by putting the least important or significant points at the top of his outline and most important or significant points at the bottom. This way, the audience of this author's essay will see his most powerful points last, which means the audience is more likely to remember those points after they've finished reading the essay.

Source: via.


Organizing an essay is like plotting a trip on a map. There are certainly mutiple ways to get from point A to point B, but if an traveler or writer plans ahead, he or she can get the most out of his or her journey, or his or her essay. Once a writer has developed his or her thesis and evidence, then the next step becomes deciding how to best organization that evidence, using one of the following patterns:

  1. Time sequence
  2. Spatial
  3. Problem-solution
  4. Cause-effect
  5. Comparison-contrast
  6. Topical
  7. Emphatic

Or another pattern of the writer's chosing. There are many more. Again, choosing the correct organizational pattern may not be the most important part of the essay but it will help make the writer's essay the most effective. Hopefully, this packet will help you make that choice.

Source: Dan Reade