Getting Organized

Many people come to the Writing Center for help getting information organized. They have already selected and researched their topic, but now they don't know what to do with the information they have collected. There are several steps in the process, each one discussed below.

Grouping ideas

If you used a brainstorming list or a topic mapping to get your ideas flowing, you can now return to that sheet and look for ideas that go together.

Look for the "big" ideas first. Now that you've done some reading on the subject, you will be better able to judge what the more important ideas are. If you are a list-maker, dividing your paper into columns, put one main idea in each column at the top and underline it. Follow up by putting related, supportive, but less dominant ideas underneath the main ideas.

If you're more of a visual person, you can set up your "map" like a family tree: put those main ideas in key spots on the paper (and underline them); then put related, supportive, but less dominant ideas underneath with lines connecting them to the main ideas. Connect specific details to their related ideas in the same way.

Grouping ideas has several benefits:

  • You don't after to worry about repeating yourself.
  • You present the reader related ideas in one spot, making them easier to understand.
  • You can think of these groups as individual modules which you then can order according to your purpose and audience.

Ordering Ideas

The mode the teacher may have assigned will play some role in the ordering of these "modules" that you have already planned. If no mode has been specified, then there are still several options that you can use depending on the assignment or writing circumstances.

  • Time Order (Chronological Order). If your assignment were to trace the development of the computer, using time order organization would be a logical choice. This method discusses the topic in order of events or its history.
  • Spatial Order. If your assignment were to discuss various American English dialects, you might organize that discussion by region (space).
  • Climatic Order. This method orders ideas from the least important to the most important or from the simplest to the most complex.
  • Rhetorical/Argumentative Order. This method puts the most important idea (or argumentative point) last--the knock-out punch, so to speak--puts the second most important idea first, and puts all the other points somewhere in the middle. The idea behind this ordering is that audiences naturally remember the first and last things in any discussion or performance, with the ending being the most powerful position. By putting the second most important idea first, you begin well and memorably to the audience; by putting the most important point last, you end powerfully and are likely to win over the last remaining reluctant members of your audience.

Developing the thesis

Since the thesis is the single most important sentence of the essay, you want to spend some time making it clear and emphatic. Your purpose in the assignment will largely shape its development. If you are informing, your thesis should provide a clear statement of the most significant concept you have learned from your study and want to share with your audience. If your purpose is to argue, your thesis should make a clear assertion of the idea you intend to prove.

Be sure to consult your writing/composition text for more specific examples and illustrations of these techniques.