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Organizing Principles for Writing an Essay

by Christopher Cascio

Perhaps the most crucial aspect of writing a successful essay is clearly organizing your thoughts on paper. When deciding on how to best organize your main ideas, you have to analyze your subject and determine how these individual ideas relate to one another. Once you make that connection, you can employ one of four specific strategies to ensure that your message will come across loud and clear.

Chronological Order

Perhaps the most basic way to organize your ideas is according to chronology. To use this method you arrange your ideas according to the order in which the subjects occur. For example, if you are writing a narrative, you would tell the events in the order that they happen. However, chronological order also works for other essay modes, such as process analyses, in which you provide the reader with instructions on how to perform a task or explain how something works. This organizational pattern often suits descriptive modes as well. For example, if you are describing a place, you can organize the characteristics you want to describe according to the seasons in which they occur.

Climactic Order

To use climactic organization means to order your ideas according to their increasing importance. This method builds tension as the essay moves forward, so that you end with your most important points. The idea is that because these most important points are the last ideas your audience reads, your audience will remember them best. An alternate form of climactic order is known as psychological organization. Psychological organization is different in that it places the emphasis on both the first and last ideas in the essay, with the final idea still being the most important. For instance, if you rank the importance of your ideas from one to five, with five being most important, you might arrange those ideas in the following order: four, one, two, three, five.

Spatial Order

Spatial organization dictates that you order your ideas based on each idea's relationship to the ones around it. This method is most useful for subjects that can be linked geographically. For example, if you are writing an essay about the various types of natural disasters that occur in the United States, you might begin with East Coast to discuss hurricanes then discuss the Midwest's Tornado Alley, followed by the West Coast and earthquakes. However, this method is also useful for narrative description. If you are writing a setting, for instance, you can describe what the narrator sees by moving from one location to the next, or from person to person.

Topical Order

Topical order is another organizational method that uses the relationships between subjects as the link, but instead of using spatial relationships this one uses figurative relationships. For example, if you're writing a critical analysis of a novel, you might organize your essay according to the various elements of the story that are subject to criticism, such as themes, writing style, the book's success compared to the author's previous work. This pattern is useful when you need to analyze the individual components of your subject, but you can't warrant ordering them according to chronology, importance or physical proximity.

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