Chapter 7: WHAT IS "ORGANIZING"?
brief, introductory chapters describes what
basic "organizing" means and when it is used.
How should you organize a college or professional
paper? Is there one standard method? What do college instructors or
bosses expect? What you will learn from the chapters in this "Organizing"
section is how the average successful college writer (and professional worker)
learns to construct the skeleton or inner joists and beams of his or her papers
according to specific plans or maps, just as someone building a house must make
the internal structure of it from an architectural design before adding outer
and inner walls and floorboards. The methods in the chapters of this
section are based on the learning and the trial-and-error experiments of
millions of college students and professional workers. It is how most
college students and professional workers actually learn to write, whether they
receive good instruction on how to do this or simply develop their skills
through their own step-by-step experiences.
First, when does organization start? This
depends on the type of paper you are writing and how your instructor wants you
You've seen and heard of many methods in the "Starting"
section, especially in the "Focus"
and the "First
Often, instructors who are teaching advanced high school writing,
developmental/basic writing in college, or college-level composition want you to
start with a system often called "freewriting." On the other hand,
instructors in other college courses and in the work world expect you to start
with a specific structure that is specific to their discipline or profession.
Students' needs for structure also differ: some
students start better by just simply taking a subject and writing about it.
Sometimes it works better if they are told that they are going to "argue for or
against it" or "analyze it."
Other students work better if
they know a very specific structure for starting. The chapters in the
section discussed very thoroughly a wide variety of ways of just simply going
ahead and freewriting--writing freely. The chapters in this "Organizing"
section discuss a variety of organizational methods--which can be used either
for starting a paper or for revising it.
Whether you start with an organizational scheme or
you simply start with freewriting, organization is very important as a first
step in revising. You need to check your overall organization to see if it
is correct. And you need to check the smaller organizational details--the
formation and order of paragraphs and sentences within them--to be sure that
they most strongly and most clearly convey your ideas.
How should you format college papers if your teacher
already is expecting a specific structure when you start? Different
departments and disciplines have different organizational expectations.
For example, an upper-division (junior or senior)
business class instructor will expect a very distinct format when you are asked
to write a "proposal" or a "recommendation report"; an instructor in an
upper-division psychology course will want a rather specific format if he or she
assigns you a "case study"; a lab course will have a specific format for a "lab
report" or "scientific report"; and, as most people recognize, a journalism
instructor will expect several different forms, each distinctive, such as a news
article, an editorial, and a magazine interview. There are many other
formats, as well, ones that you will need to learn as you go through
disciplinary and departmental courses and majors. Some of the most
important and basic of these are represented in the chapters in this online
Is there a signicant difference between larger
organizational concerns--the overall structure of the paper--vs. smaller
organizing details such as paragraphing and making sentences? The answer
Basically, organizing is what well-known writing
theorist Peter Elbow, who developed the method of writing called "process
writing," calls "macro-organizing." Macro-organizing means
developing, moving around, or building the larger organizational parts: the
overall order of your several main ideas; the arrangement of your body sections,
introduction, and conclusion; and the order of your paragraphs within body
sections. These blocks, parts, or sections need to be moved around
according to the type of college paper you have been assigned, how you want to
present the material, and sometimes a particular way of organizing that your own
professor prefers. The best ways to determine these factors is to take an
introductory course or two on how to write college papers, to ask each teacher
for sample student papers from his or her previous students, and to ask the
professor questions during class and before or after it (well before the due
Once you have completed macro-organization, then you
can turn to what Peter Elbow calls "micro-organizing." Some people
think of micro-organizing as additional revision; others think of it as editing.
Whichever you prefer to call it, it involves organizing each individual
paragraph's beginning, middle, and end; adding transition words and phrases;
and, if helpful, rearranging the order of words within sentences so the
sentences are more effective, clear, and powerful. Both macro-organizing
and micro-organizing are necessary steps of the process of writing when you
learn how to write a new type of paper or for a new type of audience. As
you become experienced in a type of paper and the audience for whom you write,
the time you spend in organizing often will decrease because you know how to
order your thoughts and how to express them for that particular situation.
The chapters in this section talk about organizing
at the overall design level, and at the paragraph level. They also discuss
how to use specific types of sentences effectively in body sections and
paragraphs--sentences such as topic sentences and concluding sentences.
For revising in closer detail--such as how to best write an individual sentence,
how to control its grammar, and how to use punctuation, see the chapters in the
"Revising" section, which comes after this
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