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Logical Organizational Strategies for Essay Writing Help

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Updated on Sep 6, 2011

Organizational Strategies for Essays

This lesson describes four more organizational strategies for essays: analysis/classification, order of importance, comparison and contrast, and problem → solution.

In the previous lesson, you learned ways to organize ideas according to time and space. Now, you'll examine four additional principles of organization:

  1. analysis/classification
  2. order of importance
  3. comparison and contrast
  4. problem → solution

Analysis/Classification

Some essays are best organized by arranging ideas, items, or events by their characteristics or functions. The following assignment is broad enough to describe many different strategies.

Plants and animals protect themselves in many different ways. Describe the various strategies organisms have developed for protection.

It makes sense to group similar strategies together and organize your essay by type (classification). A formal outline to address the assignment might look like this:

  1. Appearance
    1. camouflage
      1. moths
      2. flounder
      3. walking stick
    2. warning colors
      1. monarch butterfly
      2. coral snake
      3. South American poisonous frog
    3. mimicry
      1. king snake resembling coral snake
      2. swallowtail butterfly larva resembling snake
      3. snowberry fly resembling jumping spider
  2. Chemicals
    1. smoke
      1. squid
      2. octopus
    2. smells
      1. skunks
      2. others?
    3. poisons
      1. spiders
      2. snakes
      3. bombardier beetles
  3. Armor
    1. spikes, thorns
      1. roses and thistles
      2. sea urchins
      3. porcupines
    2. shells, hard coverings
      1. nuts
      2. beetles
      3. turtles

Notice how the protective strategies are first classified into three categories: appearance, chemicals, and armor. Each of these categories is then further classified for analysis. Appearance, for example, is broken down into three types of protection strategies: camouflage, warning colors, and mimicry.

Order of Importance

One of the most frequently used organizational strategies, order of importance is often the main organizing principle of an essay. Even when it's not, it's used in individual sections and paragraphs. It works in both directions, as cause and effect does. You can begin with the most important, and work toward the least, or begin with the least important, and finish with the most.

Most important generally means most supportive, most convincing, or most striking. For example, the outline you just read lists several protection strategies. While the overall organizing principle is analysis/classification, most sections within that larger structure are also organized by order of importance. Look again at the section on appearance:

  1. Appearance
    1. camouflage
      1. moths
      2. flounder
      3. walking stick
    2. warning colors
      1. monarch butterfly
      2. coral snake
      3. South American poisonous frog
    3. mimicry
      1. king snake resembling coral snake
      2. swallowtail butterfly larva resembling snake
      3. snowberry fly resembling jumping spider

"Appearance" is one of the essays' major supporting ideas. The three minor supporting ideas—camouflage, warning colors, and mimicry—are listed in order of importance. Camouflage is the most common and least sophisticated of the three, whereas mimicry is the most unique and most compelling way that animals use appearance to protect themselves. And for each of these three supporting ideas, three specific examples are provided. Again, they are listed in order of importance, from the least striking example to the most compelling.

Whenever you're building an argument (and in most essays, that's exactly what you're doing), it's most effective to start with the least important idea and move to the most important. A good argument is like a snowball rolling down a hill. It builds momentum and strength as it rolls, one idea building upon another. And because you're working to convince readers that your assertions are valid, it helps to use this structure. In many cases, your least important ideas are probably also the least controversial and easiest to accept. It makes sense to begin with those that your reader will most likely agree with, and build the reader's trust and acceptance as you work toward more difficult concepts.

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