Organizing Writing Ideas Study Guide (page 4)
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?
Organizing a Persuasive Essay
One way to organize a persuasive essay is by order of importance. You might start with the most important point and end with the least important, or start with the least important and build to the most important. This strategy allows you to build a strong, convincing argument, as you saw in earlier exercises.
Another common organizational pattern, as demonstrated in the preceding example, is to start by explaining the opposing point of view. In the essay, the author introduces the topic by listing the city's reasons for tearing down the stadium. By laying out the opposing opinion first, the author acknowledges that she recognizes and understands those ideas, but still disagrees with them. This strategy strengthens your argument because it shows the reader that you are well informed and aware of other opinions. A reader is more likely to be convinced by a writer who sounds informed and thoughtful than by someone who can see only one side of the issue.
The Five-Paragraph Essay
For whatever type of essay you plan to write, the most common structure is a five-paragraph essay. As you can probably guess, this structure includes (at least!) five paragraphs:
- Introduction to the topic, ending with a thesis statement
- First supporting detail and explanation
- Second supporting detail and explanation
- Third supporting detail and explanation
An introduction paragraph can be depicted as an upside-down pyramid. The first sentence introduces the general topic. The next few sentences explain the topic or issue. The last sentence is the thesis.
A thesis is the main idea of the whole essay. It is an assertion—a statement that includes the author's judgment or opinion. The rest of the essay will include details to support or prove the thesis statement. Thus, the thesis should be something that a writer can successfully argue within an essay. Try to select the best thesis statement from these three options:
- Mike Morrissey played baseball for 19 years.
- Mike Morrissey was the best player Dowshire has ever had.
- Mike Morrissey experienced success both on and off the baseball field.
The first statement is a fact. It does not leave anything for the writer to prove in the rest of the essay. A fact alone cannot be a thesis. The second option is an opinion. Mike Morrissey may or may not be the best player the team has ever had. However, this type of assertion will be very difficult to prove in an essay. Some readers will always disagree with such a simplistic opinion. Choice c is the best thesis statement for this essay because it makes a reasonable assertion that can be proven with supporting details.
The Supporting Details
Essays usually include three paragraphs of details to support the thesis. These details or ideas are needed to convincingly argue your thesis. In these middle paragraphs, you'll use the organization that's best for the type of essay you're writing. For example, if you're writing a narrative essay, these middle paragraphs will tell the story, probably in chronological order. Each paragraph might explain one event or episode in the story. You might explain the outcome or lesson learned within each paragraph, or wait until the concluding paragraph.
For an informative essay, you might choose to organize by cause and effect. You could include one cause and effect pair for each paragraph, or describe the cause in the first paragraph and the effects in the second and third paragraphs. There are infinite ways to organize your supporting details, and the topic will help you determine which method of organization is the best for that essay. Just be sure to include the three or four strongest ideas from your prewriting.
You might organize a persuasive essay by order of importance. If you decide to go from least important to most important, building your argument to a big conclusion, you will put the least convincing details in the first paragraph. The second paragraph will contain details more important than those in the first paragraph. This pattern will continue until the final paragraph, where you will place the evidence most critical to your argument.
In the conclusion paragraph, the writer summarizes the thesis to remind the reader what has been asserted in the essay. The rest of the paragraph "zooms out" from the thesis, returning to the general topic. It can be an opportunity to tie up loose ends in the essay, or to explain how the topic fits into a bigger picture.
Often, conclusion paragraphs mention how the topic will continue beyond the essay. An essay about declining wolf populations, for example, might conclude with the statement "If humans don't intervene to help wolves, they could be extinct within 20 years." This sort of statement gives the reader something to think about after the essay is over.
A conclusion paragraph can be depicted as an upright triangle, the opposite of the introduction paragraph. The conclusion starts with the most specific assertion and ends by talking about the general topic once again.
Essays are a useful way for students and professionals alike to analyze a topic. There are three types of essays: informative (or expository), narrative, and persuasive. Each type of essay has several options for organizing the argument, but all essays follow the same basic structure. The first paragraph introduces the topic and the author's thesis. The middle paragraphs explain details to support the thesis. The final paragraph summarizes the thesis once more and concludes the topic.
SKILL BUILDING UNTIL NEXT TIME
- Many well-known writers, including novelists and poets, have also published books of essays. Find an essay to read today. What is the topic of the essay? What is the author's thesis? How many paragraphs of supporting details does the author include? Is it a narrative, informative, or persuasive essay?
- Choose a topic that interests you, such as your favorite athlete, teacher, or activity. If you needed to write a narrative essay about this topic, what would your thesis be? Write it down. Then write possible thesis statements for an informative essay and a persuasive essay about the same topic. Which essay would be the most interesting to write?
Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:
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- Signs Your Child Might Have Asperger's Syndrome
- Theories of Learning
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