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Home & Contents                       Basics                       College Writing                       www.OnlineGrammar.org

                  

                                   

PARTS & SECTIONS

Click on any  part or section below:

Part I. Basics/Process

  A. Chapters 1-6: Start

  B. Ch. 7-13: Organize

  C. Ch. 14-20: Revise/Edit

Part II. College Writing

   D. Ch. 21-23: What Is It?

   E. Ch. 24-30: Write on Rdgs.

   F. Ch.31-35: Arguments

  G. Ch. 36-42: Research

  H. Ch. 43-48: Literature

   I.  Ch. 49-58: Majors & Work

Part III. Grammar 

   www.OnlineGrammar.org
 
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 Study Questions
     

 

                                          

Chapter 8: MAJOR ORGANIZATION

                 
What are the most basic forms of organization in college papers?

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Introduction

Grade School Model

College Model

When to Start Ordering

Section & Thought

Subtitle & Topic Sentence

Beginning & End

Conclusion

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This chapter shows the difference in organizing the basic grade school paper vs. the basic college paper, and it shows several ways of developing the basic college paper. 

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Introduction

          The good news about major organizing in college writing is that college composition instructors generally use the same kind of overall basic format.  This format is familiar to most composition and English instructors, and teachers who expect writing in other disciplines, especially in the first two years of college, usually know that students who have had a college composition course are capable of writing using this structure.  This same type of format is accepted--even required--in a large number of lower-division (first- and second-year) departments and disciplines, sometimes just as you have already learned it and sometimes with slight changes in structure (to help better control the type of content you produce).  And thankfully, this main college-writing pattern or structure can be found in slightly different forms in large numbers of upper-division classes (third- and fourth/fifth-year) and graduate-level courses.  What follows is a basic discussion of what this pattern is not, what it is, and how you can focus your own writing methods to develop this pattern.  

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What is the common grade school model?  

          Here is a common understanding from grade school of how to organize a paper.  This model is okay as a beginning method of organizing.  However, the purpose of showing it here is to eventually discuss how you can and should go beyond it, for it is just too simple for college writing.  Some of you already may have learned how to organize better than this: you might have learned in a high school English class (or even in middle school or junior high), in another college class, or in a job.  For now, though, here is the common grade school model.  I call it the "ruler" method of writing.  

          When you were in grade school, how did you tend to organize your ideas for writing?  Many people simply wrote each idea down and then provided details about it.  Often, they wrote about it in the same order in which they first thought about it.  If, for example, you developed ten ideas or thoughts, the result could be represented as a series of thoughts something like this (whether three thoughts, ten as shown here, or more):  

Idea 1 Idea 2 Idea 3 Idea 4 Idea 5 Idea 6 Idea 7 Idea 8 Idea 9 Idea 10

The next step was to fill in each thought with with supporting details or other information, and then to add to the whole paper a brief introduction and conclusion.  This method can be called the "ruler method" because the result looks like a school ruler with divided sections:

THE RULER

Intro Idea 1:
details
Idea 2:
details
Idea 3:
details
Idea 4:
details
Idea 5:
details
Idea 6:
details
Idea 7:
details
Idea 8:
details

Idea 9:
details

Idea 10:
details
Conc.

          Another guideline people learned, often late in grade school--or even later--was to develop each idea into a complete paragraph.  Sometimes, of course, paragraphs were combined, but the overall effect still was of a ruler method of writing--the ideas were written down, often in the same order the person first thought of them, and there was simply a flow from introduction to one idea, then to another idea, and eventually to the conclusion.  If the paper became long enough, it was called a "report," and it would look something like this:

THE RULER As a Report--How It Is Written

Intro:
par. 1
par. 2 par. 3 par. 4 par. 5 par. 6 par. 7 par. 8 par. 9 par. 10 par. 11 Conc.:
par.
_12

          There also was some revising and editing to do, of course, but it didn't usually change the organizational pattern or format of the paper very much.  (If it did, you were lucky enough to have a writing teacher who was helping you learn advanced methods.)  The layout of the ruler report--the finished product--looked pretty much like how you would expect a ruler to appear if you stood it on its end, like this (with a few thoughts, or ten as shown here, or more):  

THE RULER As a Report--The Finished Product (4+ pp.)

Title

Introduction:
par. 1 (summary)
paragraph 2
paragraph 3
paragraph 4
paragraph 5
paragraph 6
paragraph 7
paragraph 8
paragraph 9
paragraph 10
paragraph 11
Conclusion: par. 12 (sum. + final thought)

Shorter versions of this "ruler report" may have fewer ideas and fewer paragraphs.  However, they contain or use the same organizational pattern: the writer has written down several major ideas, tends to keep them in the same order he or she thought of them, and develops each one into a paragraph or two, step by step.

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What is the most common college model?  

          The grade school format above is very useful, as far as it goes.  However, some high schools--and almost all colleges and universities--take this format a few important steps further.  They do so for two reasons: (1) the college method makes papers much more interesting and powerful to write and read, and (2) these more-highly organized papers better emulate or mirror what you will need to write in your college courses, in public life, and in your professional careers.

          The most basic developmental-level college model sometimes is called, in its very simplest form, the "five-star thesis" or "five-paragraph thesis" because it often has five paragraphs.  Often this pattern of five is first introduced in high school (occasionally earlier).  It looks like a series of layers, somewhat like the layers of a cake (with the introduction--the frosting--coming first) or, perhaps, of geological strata (such that the deeper the reader "digs" into the paper, the more interesting he or she may find it): 

LAYERS of a 5-Star Thesis

Paragraph 1--Intro

Paragraph 2 (Main Idea A)

Paragraph 3 (Main Idea B)

Paragraph 4 (Main Idea C)

Paragraph 5--Conc.

          The format of this layered, 5-star thesis includes basic principles on which the majority of college and professional papers are built.  However, in most college and professional writing, there are more than just five paragraphs, sometimes many more.  The typical short or medium-length college or professional paper often has one- (or sometimes two-) paragraph introduction and conclusion.  The body of the paper--the part between the introduction and conclusion--usually is layered or divided into two to five sections.  Each section then has several paragraphs of its own.  The most common layering or division is to have three to four sections:

LAYERS of the Average College/Professional Paper

Intro (1-2 par.)

Section 1
(with several paragraphs)

Section 2
(with several paragraphs)

Section 3
(with several paragraphs)

Section 4 (optional)
(with several paragraphs)

Conc. (1-2 par.)

          Beyond this, it becomes difficult to show a "typical" pattern--one that all college teachers use--because there are so many variations.  For short papers of a few pages or less, most teachers are happy with the pattern above.  For medium papers of five to ten pages in length (or for longer papers), some teachers still prefer the pattern above, with additional paragraphs added to each section.  However, other teachers prefer a less rigid pattern based more on the development of your ideas, a pattern with more of a flow.  Each of these two patterns are illustrated below.  Subtitles sometimes are added to the first type, as below, but usually not to second type: 

LAYERS Using a Few Major Ideas
(2-5 Main Sections)

                        

Title

                         

Intro (1-2 par.)

                         

Section 1 Subtitle (Main Idea #2)

1st paragraph--introductory

2nd paragraph

3rd paragraph, etc.

                         

Section 2 Subtitle (Main Idea #2)

1st paragraph--introductory

2nd paragraph

3rd paragraph, etc.

                         

Section 3 Subtitle (Main Idea #2)

1st paragraph--introductory

2nd paragraph

3rd paragraph, etc.

                     

Conc. (1-2 par.)

LAYERS Using a Flow of Thoughts
(A Series of Connected Ideas)

                        

Title

                         

Intro (1-2 par.)

                         

Thought #1 (1st par.)

More on Thought #1 (2nd par.)

Thought #2 

Thought #3 

Thought #4 (1st par.)

More on Thought #4 (2nd par.)

Thought #5 

Thought #6 (1st par.)

More on Thought #6 (2nd par.)

Even more on Thought #6
(3rd par.)

Thought #7 

Thought #8 (1st par.)

More on Thought #8
(2nd par.), etc.

     

Conc. (1-2 par.)

          How do you know which pattern to use?  This answer cannot be stressed too many times: Ask the teacherAsk for sample papers, talk with your teacher in class and/or afterward, and take an early draft or outline to his or her office to ask what pattern she prefers.

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How do you start ordering your college paper?

          The short answer is, often--at least in your first two or three years of college--to not start by ordering.  This is because you may work best with a type of paper unfamiliar to you if you start by freewriting.  This means that you develop a series of notes or a rough draft simply by writing whatever comes to your mind about your subject.  Such freewriting actually is the most common way of writing in some disciplines, such as English, the humanities, philosophy, and other liberal arts, even sometimes at the highest professional levels.  If you don't yet know what you will say or how you will say it, freewriting may help.  

          However, you might, instead, be the type of person who writes best by starting with some kind of outline of your overall thesis or central idea, and the points or parts of your paper.  In addition, if you have become used to writing a certain type of paper and/or you are in a discipline or profession that has rigid writing requirements (such as those for writing a police report or a business recommendation), you may find it more practical to start with an outline, whether rough or detailed.  Starting with a rough outline generally means writing a phrase or a sentence or two for each main section, or a word or phrase for each major paragraph.  After that, you then can fill in the details by further outlining, or you can freewrite each section or paragraph.  Whichever method you use to fill in details, you always can come back to it later and revise it--add, subtract, expand, limit, add examples, etc.  Rough outlining probably is the most common way of writing in the professional world, especially in professional fields or jobs that have very specific types of written documents with very specific organizational forms for content.  

          In any case, the way you start is up to you: it is a combination of the type of discipline and paper, of your experience with writing that type of paper, and of your own particular abilities and preferences for developing ideas.  See the "First Drafts" chapter for more details.

          If you start with some kind of outline, your organizing task is simpler.  You can develop your rough outline according to the parts and steps of that type of paper.

          If, however, you are starting by freewriting or note taking, then at some point you will need to organize your freewritten comments, notes, or thoughts.  Often, the more you have written, the better: you will have the ideas expressed more clearly on paper, and you will be able to make faster, better connections between the different ideas.  

          For example, I first learned to organize my own college papers well during my second year of college (there was no "Composition I" course at my college).  We usually had to write at least three short papers in every course.  For each paper, I learned to spend several days writing many paragraphs of notes on separate sheets of paper.  Then I would put words to the central point I wanted to make by writing it down in a sentence or two.  Next, I would cut some of my sheets of paper apart with scissors to make sure that every important idea was on a separate piece of paper.  Then I spread all the pieces of paper, uncut and cut, on the floor of my room, and I would look for patterns. I preferred the three- or four-section method of layering, so I would try to shuffle my pieces of paper into three, four, or sometimes five major groupings.  I might spend a day or two doing this, carefully tiptoeing through the papers each time I entered or left my room, sometimes trying two or three different methods of grouping before settling on the on I liked best.    

          Once I had settled on one grouping, I would pick up one of them and place the pieces of paper in the order I thought would be clearest for my readers to understand my arguments and proofs.  Then I would add sentences at the beginnings and ends of these pieces so they would flow together.  Sometimes, but not always, I had to rewrite the original paragraphs entirely or, at least, reorder what I had said.  At other times, my original paragraphs fit well with little or no change--just a beginning or ending sentence to help connect them to the paragraphs before and after.  

          Once I was done, I would write my conclusion--almost always just one medium to long paragraph.  The last thing I would do was write my introductory paragraph and decide on my final title.  I learned to do these two parts last because it is important to sound in a title and an introduction like you know what you are going to say.  And I wouldn't always know this exactly and perfectly well until I was done with my paper.  

          What organizational methods can you use to develop a pattern for your own papers?  In some disciplines, there is a set pattern to use, and an instructor should show this to you.  In others, you simply are free to develop your ideas in a pattern of your own choosing.  If the latter is the case, you might, for example, organize your ideas by three or four periods of time, or perhaps three or four different types of theories, or by three or four main arguments.  You might organize your ideas by author or type of author, by reading, or by other means.  

          If you are completely free to develop the layers of your main sections or ideas as you choose, you may want to consider a successful method used by many magazine writers.  This method is, in the body of your paper, to offer your most important or interesting section or idea first, your second most important or interesting idea last, and the least interesting information in the middle.  Here is how this method might be applied to the two methods from above of layering a college paper:

ORDER Using a Few Major Ideas
(2-5 Main Sections)

Intro (1-2 par.)

                         

Section 1: 1st most important or interesting major idea

                         

Section 2: 3rd most important or interesting major idea

                         

Section 3: Least important or interesting major idea

                        

Section 4: 2nd most important or interesting major idea

                         

Conc. (1-2 par.)

ORDER Using a Flow of Thoughts
(A Series of Connected Ideas)

Intro (1-2 par.)

                         

1st most important/interesting thought

3rd most important/interesting thought

5th    "         "         /     "             "

7th    "         "         /     "             "

Least important/interesting thought 

6th most important/interesting thought

4th    "         "         /     "             "

2nd most important/interesting thought 

     

Conc. (1-2 par.)

          Of course, many papers cannot be so easily divided because the layers are based on a progression of historical time or some other required order.  However, if all else is equal, the above system is a useful one for encouraging your readers to become more involved in your paper.

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How should you order each section or thought

          There are numerous ways to order a section or a thought.  When you are simply writing for yourself--as, for example, in writing rough drafts or first drafts--you can think on paper any way you please.  However, once you are ready to write for your audience, there is a pattern of development that many readers have come to expect.  It is a method that moves from the general to the specific:

 GENERAL IDEAS

             \/

SPECIFIC DETAILS

        Sometimes this kind of development is shown as an upside down triangle.  The shape emphasizes how the beginning is top heavy or thick with broader, more general ideas, and how these gradually develop into narrower, pointed details:

     ________________________________
     \        
MAIN IDEA:         /
      \       topic sentence       /
       \--------------------------/
        \
       DISCUSSION:      /
         \      background      /
          \--------------------/
           \
DETAILS:  Quotes,/
            \Facts,
Examples,/    
             \ Paraphrases, /  
              \  Numbers,  /
               \  Graphs  /
                \--------/
                 \
CONC./
                  \    /
                   \  /
                    \/

          Usually, in following this pattern, you make your ideas clearest to others if you start with some kind of brief summary of your section or thought or, at the least, some kind of foreshadowing or early indication of what the section or thought is about.  This introductory summary, also called a "topic sentence," most often is just a sentence or two in length.  

          Next, sometimes, is a discussion.  It may be just a sentence, or it may be much more--perhaps even a paragraph or two.  This discussion might include some useful background information, an explanation, or, perhaps, some kind of rhetorical mode such as a definition, classification, or description.  In some types of papers, a discussion section, even a lengthy one, may be necessary.  This is true especially of academic and high-level professional writing.  However, in other types of papers--e.g., in business or technical report writing--there may be no discussion section at all.

          Next is even more specific information.  Once you have offered this discussion (or if none is necessary), often it is then time to offer details of what you mean: facts, figures, examples, stories, quotations and paraphrases, pictures, graphs, etc.  This may be the larger part of your section of thought development: often it is as long as your introductory statement and your discussion, and in many papers it may be much longer.  

          Finally, a good section or major thought usually ends with a summary statement to its readers.  This summary statement may include a simple summary of the contents of the section or idea, a final, simple, and clear restatement of the main point, and/or the lesson or outcome of the section or thought.  Sometimes there may also be a sentence that provides a connection to the next major section or thought. 

          This pattern may result in many paragraphs or just one longer one.  See "Paragraphing" for more details on how to develop individual paragraphs beyond this model.

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How can you use subtitles and/or topic sentences?

          Some disciplines and professions require subtitles, and some don't.  Some instructors, such as those in Business, almost always expect students to use subtitles.  Others, such as those in English, may make subtitles optional or even forbid them.  It is very important to ask your individual instructor (or, in the work world, your superior) whether subtitles are expected or accepted.  If they are, then traditionally they are used at the beginning of each major body section, at the beginning of your conclusion, and, often (but not always) at the beginning of your introduction.  They usually are simply underlined (or not even underlined, just placed alone on a separate line), even with the left margin, and not typed in bold, italics, or a larger size (though in business and advertising, larger, bold, and/or italicized type sometimes is used).  Often the subtitle for the introduction is called, simply, "Introduction," and the final, summarizing end often is called "Conclusion."  The subtitle of each body section usually has a name--one or a few words--that announces the content or main idea of the section:                          

Title

                 

Introduction 

introductory paragraph

           

[Subtitle in Your Words] 

1st paragraph

2nd paragraph, etc.

         

[Subtitle in Your Words] 

1st paragraph

2nd paragraph, etc.

              

[Subtitle in Your Words] 

1st paragraph

2nd paragraph, etc.

         

Conclusion 

concluding paragraph

                         

            How do topic sentences fit into this pattern?  In a longer, developed paragraph, a topic sentence appears as the first sentence in each paragraph.  It  announces what the entire paragraph will say.  The middle sentences in the paragraph offer your proofs, details, stories, quotations, etc.  And the final sentence provides a summary of what the paragraph has said, or the results of the proofs or details in the paragraph:

   

[Subtitle in Your Words] 

[1st paragraph:]

 - 1st sent. = paragraph topic

 - Middle sents.: details, proofs

 - Last sent. = parag. sum./result
      

[2nd paragraph:]

 - 1st sent. = paragraph topic

 - Middle sents.: details, proofs

 - Last sent. = parag. sum./result

 
          A topic sentence or two also is needed for the entire body section at the beginning of the body section.  And a final summarizing sentence or two is needed at the very end of the entire body section.  Generally, in formal writing, you are not allowed to have a one-sentence paragraph.  This leaves you with two different ways to provide the section's topic at the beginning and a summary at the end:

 

Method A

 

Method B

[Subtitle in Your Words] 

 

[Subtitle in Your Words] 

Intro paragraph of 2-4 sents. stating entire section's subject.

 

 

[2nd paragraph:]

 - 1st sent. = paragraph topic

 - Middle sents.: details, proofs

 - Last sent. = parag. sum./result

 

[1st paragraph:]

 - 1st sent. = section's topic

 - 2nd sent. = paragraph topic

 - Middle sents.: details, proofs

 - Last sent. = parag. sum./result

[3rd paragraph:]

 - 1st sent. = The par. topic

 - Middle sents.: details, proofs

 - Last sent. = parag. sum./result

 

[2nd paragraph:]

 - 1st sent. = The par. topic

 - Middle sents.: details, proofs

 - 2nd-to-last sent. = parag. sum.

 - Last sent. = section's sum.

Concluding paragraph of 2-4 sents. giving summary or result of entire section's subject.

 

 

          The first of these methods ("Method A") allows you to write a separate, short, introductory and concluding paragraph of 2-4 sentences at the beginning and end of the entire body section; it treats the body section as its own "mini-paper," in a sense, as it has its own very short introducing and concluding paragraphs. 

          The second method ("B") is much faster and more efficient.  It offers a very brief introductory and concluding sentence for the entire body section, using just one sentence at the beginning of the first paragraph, and another sentence at the end of the last paragraph.

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How do you write the beginning and end of the paper? 

           

 

        Introductions and endings can be very simple, or they can contain some of the very best writing in your paper.  Much depends on the type of paper you are writing--the discipline or profession, your audience, and the length of paper.  Or starters, the great majority of introductions and endings are just one paragraph each.  Why?  It is because an introduction or an ending is supposed to be just a taste, a quick statement of the whole paper, that is something easily read and easily remembered.  There is an old guideline taught in speech classes that applies here: 

In a good speech (and a good paper), 

(1) tell them what you're going to say,
 
(2) say
it, and
  
(3)
tell them
what you said. 

The introduction and the ending are where you "tell them what you're going to say" and "tell them what you said."  (The body is where you "say it.")  This function often is easily accomplished in just one paragraph.  Here are, for example, several possible types of introductory and ending paragraphs (these examples are not hard and fast rules, but rather just general possibilities):  

Introductory Paragraph

ACADEMIC ARG.
           
Thesis Sent.
Best Quotation
Topic Sent. #1
Topic Sent. #2
Topic Sent. #3

BUS. PROPOSAL

Problem/Need

Solution

Steps or Method

Outcomes

CASE STUDY
     
Client or Patient
Problems/Symptoms
Diagnosis
Plan & Results

SCIENCE REPORT

     

Abstract of Paper
(Summary of Contents)

     

Concluding Paragraph

ACADEMIC ARG.
       
Thesis Sent.
2nd-Best Quote
Final Thought 

BUS. PROPOSAL

Problem & Solution

Outcomes

CASE STUDY

Diagnosis
Plan
Results

SCIENCE REPORT

nothing or
brief summary of
final implications

           

          When do you write introductions and endings?  As you may have noticed above, when I told my own story of organizing papers in college, I learned to write my the body of a paper, then its conclusion, and only then would I write the introduction.  By the time I had written everything else, my introduction would sound like I knew exactly what I was talking about--which I did, by that time.  

                

Conclusion

          As I mentioned above, while some conclusions are as simple and straightforward as can be, others are more complex, more interesting.  Let me try for the latter here.  As I sit writing this, at this moment I am on the tip of a large peninsula in Michigan, forty miles north of Traverse City.  I can see no other human beings or their buildings and ships anywhere around me.  In front of me, Lake Michigan stretches, sun shining off the water.  Above, a sky of several hues of blue is patchworked by white clouds; below them, the water is light blue close to shore, turning a deeper sapphire far out.  The beach in front of me is a mix of small rocks and large, sand, short bushes, and stunted trees.  A few minutes ago, a pair of wild swans floated just a few yards offshore in front of me, and I think there is still a large egret by the shoreline, hiding from me by some brush.  The scene is simple, beautiful, and natural.  Everything is in its right place, and yet there's a tinge of excitement, too--because I know the power of the lake and the sudden storms that come off it, day or night.  All of these things are how a good conclusion should feel to readers.  In fact, so should your entire organization.

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B. ORGANIZE

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Chapters:

  7. What Is "Organizing"?

  8. Major Organization

  9. Basic Layouts

10. Typical Section

11. Paragraph Patterns

12. Intros & Conclusions

13. Details & Images

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Additional:

Activities Page

Video

Universal Organizer
                       

                

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 Related Links in
OnlineGrammar.org:

  7. Organizing and Paragraphs

19. Visual & Multimodal Design

                

 

 

Updated 1 Aug. 2013

  

   

 

WritingforCollege.org also is at CollegeWriting.info and WforC.org

Natural URL: www.tc.umn.edu/~jewel001/CollegeWriting/home.htm
Previous editions: Writing for School & Work, 1984-1998; CollegeWriting.info, 1998-2012
6th Edition: 8-1-12, rev. 8-1-13.  Text, design, and photos copyright 2002-12 by R. Jewell or as noted
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