The UVic Writer's Guide
Methods Of Organizing Your Essay
Now that you have narrowed your topic and formulated a thesis, you know what you are going to write about; organizing your essay
will help you determine how to write it. While a well-formulated,
sharpened thesis will give your essay purpose and direction, careful
structuring and organization will ensure that every part of your
essay works to support and develop that thesis.
Ideas as we first conceive them may tumble in an improvised dance,
but an essay needs the formality of a beginning, a middle and
an end. Organizing before you write gives your ideas a structure
to cling to; it allows you to articulate, analyze, and clarify
your thoughts. If you devise some structure for your essay before
you begin to search for supporting evidence, you will be able
to conduct a more effective and directed search.
Organization (or reorganization) is a continuous process„it goes
on simultaneously with other activities, such as narrowing your
topic, forming your thesis statement, and conducting your research.
However, formal organization generally involves two components:
determining a method of organization for the essay, and drawing
up an outline which applies your ideas to that method.
As you begin to plan your essay, give some thought to the methods
you will use to organize the evidence that will support your thesis. You will want to choose methods which are most suitable to your
subject and the type of essay you have been assigned. Here are
some principles of organization:
- Chronological order:
- Paragraphs separate the process or series of events into major
stages. ( See also chronology within paragraphs.)
- Paragraphs divide the material into major categories and distinguish
- Increasing importance:
- Paragraphs are arranged so that the most important point comes
last, thus building the essay's strength.
- Cause and effect
- Indicates causal relationships between things and events. Be careful,
however, not to mistake coincidence with causality, nor to disregard
other possible causes. See the various pages that deal with logic.
- Comparison and contrast
- Involves lining up related ideas for a detailed account of similarities
and differences. In this kind of essay it is important to decide
whether you will be concentrating on similarities or differences.
In general, the more similar things are, the more you concentrate
on the differences, and vice versa. If you are comparing two works
by the same author, or two love poems, for example, what will
most interest you will be the differences between them; if you
are comparing an Anglo-Saxon riddle with a science fiction novel
the differences will be obvious enough that you will want to focus
on the similarities.
Although one pattern should serve as the overall organizing framework,
your argument can benefit from a combination of these strategies.
For example, while the paragraphs may be arranged in ascending
order of importance, within the paragraphs it is likely that you
will incorporate comparisons, causes, classification or chronology.
These principles apply to both the greater structure of the essay
and each individual idea.
Topics About Essays
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Copyright, The Department of English, University of Victoria,
This page updated Wed, Sept 20, 1995