Organizing Writing Ideas Study Guide (page 2)
Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:
Writers have many options for organizing their ideas. You'll learn about writing academic essays and how to select the best organization for each essay type.
Most people's brains organize thoughts like a spider web rather than a straight line. For example, maybe the thought of your dog makes you think of his favorite toy, which makes you think of the park, and then you remember your last trip to the park with your grandfather, which reminds you that he promised to take you out for ice cream, which makes you think of how much your dog loves ice cream. Wow!
Although those ideas might be connected in your mind, a reader could have trouble making sense of them. That's why organization is so important. In this lesson you'll learn how to put the organizing principles you've learned about into action in your own writing.
In previous lessons you've learned about many different types of writing: news articles, novels, editorials, poetry, and advertisements, to name a few. In school, the most common type of writing you'll do is essays. An essay is a type of literary composition. Its purpose is to analyze ideas or information. To analyze means that the author includes perspective and reflection.
Essays can be written about thousands of different topics, but each essay maintains a specific focus on one idea. The essay usually includes a thesis statement that narrows the topic to a specific point or perspective. The rest of the essay uses supporting details to build the argument. Essays use the general standards of writing and language, as well as the special devices of literature and poetry, such as metaphors and foreshadowing. An essay might be a single page or more than 100 pages long.
There are three basic types of essays that match the three author's purposes you learned about previously. As you brainstorm and prepare to write, it's important to decide which type of essay you are writing. Each type of essay has unique organization options.
The Informative Essay
The author's purpose in an informative essay, also called an expository essay, is to inform the reader. This type of essay presents information, description, and details. It explains or describes a topic. It generally does not include the writer's personal feelings or reactions. Nevertheless, the informative essay also needs to show some analysis or reflection. You can show your analysis through the thesis of your writing and the details you include. Choosing the thesis— what you want to say about the topic—can be the trickiest part of writing informative essays. As you read this paragraph from an informative essay, try to identify the author's thesis.
The Ducks Fly Again
In recent years, the local minor league baseball team, the Dowshire Ducks, has become standard weekend entertainment for hundreds of families. On summer afternoons, the bleachers in Hulldown Stadium are crowded with cheering fans. But it wasn't always so. Even ten years ago, ticket sales were limited, and the team was largely ignored. The Ducks rarely won games or placed well in regional tournaments. The arrival of coach Duncan Brin in 2004, however, started a new era of success and fame for the Ducks.
The topic for this essay is the Dowshire Ducks baseball team. Details about the team are introduced and explained through comparison and contrast. In the last sentence of the paragraph, though, the author launches the thesis: coach Duncan Brin improved the team's status. This qualifies as a thesis (the main idea of the whole essay) because it expresses an idea or assertion that will be proven throughout the essay.
Organizing an Informative Essay
Informative essays are often organized by comparing and contrasting, or by cause and effect. These patterns allow the writer to include lots of details and show a balanced view of the topic. Organizing by cause and effect also emphasizes logic and evidence rather than the author's opinion. Not all topics will fit well into these two organizational patterns, but they are good options to consider when you're writing this type of essay.
The Narrative Essay
A narrative essay's purpose is to entertain. Narrative is another word for story. Essays are a nonfiction genre, so a narrative essay tells a true story. Generally authors choose a short, specific story that can be fully described in a single essay. The story should be personal and show the writer's feelings and reactions to the events. Like other essays, though, the narrative essay has a thesis. The author has something to say about the story, such as a lesson he learned from the experience.
This paragraph is from a narrative essay. As you read, notice how its style and organization are different from the informative essay example.
Baseball at Hulldown
When I was seven years old, my father took me to see the Dowshire Ducks play minor league baseball at Hulldown Stadium. From the first moment I stepped into the stadium, I was captivated by baseball. Long rows of scuffed metal benches stretched like giant arms embracing the field. Peanut shells and popcorn littered the floor, filling the air with a scent no seven-year-old can resist. The stands were practically empty—it was a Thursday afternoon—but the shouting fathers and stickyfingered children sitting around us seemed like the happiest people I'd ever met. I felt as though I had stumbled on a secret world.
In this essay introduction, the reader learns that the author is going to tell about an experience he had. This tells you that it's a narrative essay. The setting is a baseball stadium, and the characters are the author at age seven and his father. The author gives us details about the sights, smells, and sounds, and how they affected him. You can also begin to guess at the author's thesis. The baseball stadium seems to have been a strong, positive experience that probably sparked a lifelong love of baseball.
Organizing a Narrative Essay
Narrative essays are usually organized chronologically, because that is often the easiest way to tell a story. Even though a narrative essay tells a true story, all the rules of good fiction storytelling apply. The people in the story should be introduced and described to the reader. Many sensory details—sights, smells, sounds—should be included to help the reader picture the scene. The story should have a beginning, middle, and end. The plot, though, is less important than the author's reflection or analysis. After telling the story, the writer concludes with the point of the story, such as the lesson learned or the long-term effects of the experience.
The Persuasive Essay
The purpose of a persuasive essay is to persuade the reader to do something or believe something. The basis for the essay is a strong opinion supported by facts or other details. As a critical reader, you've learned how writers use persuasive language in editorials and advertisements. Now you can use those same skills to write your own convincing essays. Here's an example of an introduction to a persuasive essay.
Protect Hulldown Stadium
Last month, the Dowshire Planning Commission announced that Hulldown Stadium, home of the Dowshire Ducks minor league baseball team, will close in November. According to the Commission's statement, the stadium is old and in need of major repairs. They believe that it would be cheaper to tear down the stadium and build a new one across town. But Hulldown Stadium is a local landmark. It has been the home of the Ducks for three generations. Thousands of children spend their summers sipping root beers and eating soft pretzels in Hulldown's green metal bleachers. The stadium is more than a building; it's a symbol of our community spirit and our common love of baseball. Whatever the cost, the stadium must be saved.
The writer begins the article with facts, and then begins to introduce opinions. There are many clues in the word choice, style, and tone that reveal the author's perspective. For example, in describing the commission's reasoning for tearing down the stadium, the writer includes the phrase they believe. This phrase casts doubt on whether it really is cheaper to build a new stadium, and suggests that the writer disagrees with this plan.
When you are writing a persuasive essay, try to look at your essay from the perspective of a critical reader. Have you included enough information to build a convincing argument?
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