Reading Order of Importance Help (page 3)
Order of Importance
Continuing your study of the structure of reading material, this lesson shows you how writers use order of importance—from least to most important or from most to least important. Understanding this commonly used structure improves your reading comprehension by helping you see what's most important in a piece of writing.
It's a scientifically proven fact: People remember most what they learn first and last in a given session. Writers have known this instinctively for a long time. That's why many pieces of writing are organized not in chronological order but by order of importance.
Imagine again that the writer is like an architect. How would this type of writer arrange the rooms? By hierarchy. A hierarchy is a group of things arranged by rank or order of importance. In this type of organizational pattern, hierarchy, not chronology, determines order. Thus, this architect would lay the rooms out like so: When you walk in the front door, the first room you encounter would be the president's office, then the vice president's, then the assistant vice president's, and so on down to the lowest ranking worker. Or, vice versa, the architect may choose for you to meet the least important employee first, the one with the least power in the company. Then the next, and the next, until at last, you reach the president.
Likewise, in writing, ideas may be arranged in order of importance. In this pattern, which idea comes first? Not the one that happened first, but the one that is most, or least, important.
Most Important to Least Important
In the following paragraph, the writer starts with what is most important, hoping that by putting this item first, the reader will be sure to remember it. After you read the passage, answer the questions that follow. Each question is followed by its answer to guide you through your reading of the passage.
Choosing a doctor is an important decision. Here are some things you can do to make the best choice. The single most important thing is to interview the doctors you are considering. Ask questions about the practice, office hours, and how quickly he or she responds to phone calls. Pay attention to the doctor's communication skills and how comfortable you are with him or her. The second thing you should do is check the doctor's credentials. One way to do this is to ask your health insurance company how they checked the doctor's credentials before accepting him or her into their network. Another thing you can do is to look at the environment of the doctor's office. Be sure patients aren't waiting too long and that the office is clean and professional. Finally, spend some time talking with the receptionist. Keep in mind that this is the person you'll come into contact with every time you call or come into the office. If he or she is pleasant and efficient, it will certainly make your overall experience better.
- According to the passage, what's the most important thing you can do to be sure you choose the right doctor?
The answer should be clear: The writer tells you clearly that the "single most important thing is to interview the doctors you are considering."
- What is the second most important thing you can to choose the right doctor?
When a writer starts out by saying "the most important thing," you know that the writer will be starting with the most important idea and ending with the least important. The second most important thing, therefore, is the second piece of advice offered in the paragraph: "Check the doctor's credentials."
- What's the third most important thing?
The writer is going from most to least important, so according the passage, the third most important thing is to "look at the environment of the doctor's office."
- Finally, what is the least important tip the writer offers?
The answer is the last piece of advice the writer offers: "Spend some time talking with the receptionist."
Least Important to Most Important
Some writers prefer the opposite approach, depending on the subject and the effect they want their writing to have. Rather than starting with the most important idea, they prefer to end with what is most important. Not only do they leave you with a strong concluding impression, but they also take advantage of the "snowball effect." The snowball effect is the "buildup" or force that a writer gets from starting with what's least important and moving toward what's most important. Like a snowball, the writer's idea builds and builds, getting bigger and bigger, more and more important. By starting with the least important point, writers can also create suspense—the reader is waiting for that final idea. And each idea or item builds upon the ones that come before it.
Here's an example of a passage that builds from least important to most important. Read the passage, marking it up as you go along. Answer the questions that follow.
There are a number of reasons why the current voting age of 18 should be lowered to 16. First, a lower voting age in the United States would encourage other countries to follow this example. Many countries are discussing and debating the pros and cons of lowering the voting age, and if the United States gives 16-year-olds the right to vote, it will serve as an important example for the rest of the world.
More importantly, if 16-year-olds are old enough to engage in other adult activities, then they are old enough to vote. In many states, 16-year-olds can work, get a driver's license, and engage in many other adult activities that make them mature enough to vote. If, at 16, young people are old enough to manage the responsibilities of work and school, then it is clear that they are responsible enough to make informed decisions about politics and politicians.
But the most important reason why the voting age should be lowered to 16 is that it will decrease apathy and cynicism while stimulating a lifelong interest in political participation. Many young people feel as though their opinion doesn't matter. By the time they reach voting age, they are often disenchanted with politics and cynical about the entire political process. If the voting age were lowered to 16, young people would know that their opinion does count. They would be inspired to exercise their right to vote not just as young adults but throughout their lives. The long-term results—a much higher percentage of interested voters and better voter turnout—will benefit our entire nation.
In the following spaces, list the reasons the author provides for why the voting age should be lowered in the order in which they are listed in the passage. In the next set of blanks, list those same reasons in their order of importance.
Order of Presentation
Order of Importance
You can see that the orders are reversed: The author starts with what is least important and ends with what is most important. Why? Why not the other way around?
This author uses a least-to-most-important organizational strategy because he is making an argument. He's trying to convince you that the United States should lower the voting age to 16. In order to be convincing, he must have a strong argument. If he starts with what he feels is his most important (and most convincing) point, he has already shown his hand, so to speak. Especially when the issue is controversial, writers often use the least-to-most-important structure. That way, if their less important points make sense to the reader, then their more important points will come off even stronger. Also, if they were to organize their ideas in the reverse order, most to least important, readers might feel let down.
Thus, you can often expect to see this type of structure—least to most important—in an argument. As the saying goes, "save the best for last." In an argument, that's usually where "the best" has the most impact.
In the first example, about choosing a doctor, the writer was not trying to convince. She was simply giving some advice. There's no need, then, for a buildup. Indeed, in that kind of paragraph, readers might stop reading after the first tip if they don't find it helpful. That's why the most important ideas come first—to make sure they'll be read.
In other words, the writer's purpose—his or her motive for writing—influences the choice of organizational patterns. In turn, the structure influences how you take in and understand what you read.
Order of Importance Practice
Look at the following list of reasons to read more often. If you were to put these reasons together in a paragraph to convince readers that they should read more, how would you organize them? Rank these reasons first in order of importance and then in the order in which you would present them.
Five Reasons to Read More Often
- It will improve your vocabulary.
- It will improve your reading comprehension.
- It will increase your reading speed.
- It will broaden your understanding of yourself and others.
- It will introduce you to new information and ideas.
Order of Importance to You
Order of Presentation
In which order did you choose to present your ideas? Most important to least important? Or least to most? Either structure will work beautifully with these ideas. You may want to hit your readers with what's most important from the start so that you make sure you catch their attention. Or you may want to save your best idea for last so that your readers get through all the other ideas first and build up to the most important. You might present the ideas differently, but here are two versions of the resulting paragraph as examples.
Example: Most to Least Important
There are many benefits to reading more often. First and foremost, reading more will broaden your understanding of yourself and of other people. It will also introduce you to new information and ideas. Furthermore, it will improve your overall reading comprehension so you'll begin to understand more of what you read. In addition, reading more will improve your vocabulary and increase your reading speed.
Example: Least to Most Important
There are many benefits to reading more often. First, it will increase your reading speed, so that you can read more in less time. Second, it will improve your vocabulary. Third, it will improve your overall reading comprehension, and you'll understand more of what you read. In addition, reading more will introduce you to new information and ideas. Most importantly, it will broaden your understanding of yourself and of other people.
TIP: Three main ways that authors organize their ideas are
- Time order—the chronological sequence of events
- Space order—describing the placement of a particular person, thing, or setting using words and phrases such as: below, next to, behind, in the middle, beyond, before, and in front of
- Order of importance—grabbing attention and creating a strong first impression by organizing ideas from most important to least important, or building suspense and tension by organizing ideas from least important to most important
Practice exercises for this concept can be found at Reading Comprehension Organization Practice Test.
Test your knowledge at Reading Comprehension Final Practice Test.