Essay Writing Outlining and Organizational Strategies Help (page 3)

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Updated on Sep 8, 2011

Common Organizational Strategies

Essay organization doesn't stop, however, with the underlying assertion → support structure and an outline. A number of effective strategies can organize your information and ideas, comprising a logical, easy-to-understand flow for your essay.


One way to organize your material is by chronology, or time sequence. Put ideas in the order in which they happened, should happen, or will happen. This method works best when you are narrating or describing an experience, procedure, or process. Imagine writing about the way a bill is passed in Congress, but the steps needed to complete the process are out of chronological or sequential order. The point or points you are trying to make about that process will get lost in the ensuing confusion.

Here is a sample rough outline using chronology as its organizing principle.

Assignment: Describe a time when you and a family member experienced a deep sense of conflict or when you sharply disagreed about an important issue. What caused the conflict? What was the outcome? Have your feelings about the matter changed or remained the same? Explain.

Tentative thesis: When I decided to become a vegetarian, my parents refused to support me. It was very difficult to stick to my decision—but I'm glad I did.

Rough outline:

  1. telling my family
  2. their reactions
  3. trying to explain my reasons
  4. flashback: taking the "virtual tour" of the slaughterhouse on the Web
  5. offering to take my family on the tour, but only Wei watching it with me
  6. Mom and Dad refusing to cook special meals for me
  7. learning to cook for myself
  8. Wei accepting my decision and trying some vegetarian meals with me
  9. Wei giving up meat too
  10. Mom and Dad accepting our decision and supporting us

Cause and Effect

Another way to organize ideas is using cause and effect. This method works in either direction:

  1. cause → effect: what happened (cause) and what happened as a result (effect)
  2. effect → cause: what happened (effect) and why it happened (cause)

Like chronology, cause and effect can be the main organizational structure or it can be used to organize a specific part. It can also be used in combination with other organizing principles. For example, if your assignment were to discuss the events that led to World War I, you would probably use cause and effect as well as chronology to organize your ideas.

Here's part of an outline for an essay about the effects of the Industrial Revolution on city life.

Industries moved to cities

      Large influx of working class from rural areas—looking for jobs
      Crowded, unsanitary conditions
      Children in the streets (unsupervised) or working in factories (uneducated)
      Demand for more hospitals, police, sanitation, social services


Ideas can also be organized according to spatial principles, from top to bottom, side to side, or inside to outside, for example. This organizational method is particularly useful when you are describing an item or a place. You'd use this strategy to describe the structure of an animal or plant, the room where an important even took place, or a place that is important to you.

The key to using spatial organization effectively is to move around the space or object logically. You are using words to relate something that exists physically or visually, and must help your reader understand your ideas. Don't jump around. What follows is a rough outline for an essay using the spatial organizing principle. The student works from the outside of a cell to the inside as she describes its structure:

Structure of an animal cell:

  1. Plasma membrane
    1. isolates cytoplasm
    2. regulates flow of materials between cytoplasm and environment
    3. allows interaction with other cells
Note about Cause and Effect

Whenever you write about cause and effect, keep in mind that most events have more than one cause, and most actions generate more than one effect.

  1. Cytoplasm
    1. contains water, salt, enzymes, proteins
    2. also contains organelles like mitochondria
  2. Nuclear envelope
    1. protects nucleus
  3. Nucleus
    1. contains cell's DNA

In Short

Organizing your ideas to create an effective essay is done on a number of different levels. Underlying all essays is the assertion → support structure. For every idea or assertion you make, you need to provide examples, evidence, and details as support. An outline provides a roadmap that not only helps you in the drafting process, but also lets you see where your ideas may need more development or support.Within the outline, ideas can be arranged using a number of strategies. Chronology or time sequence, cause and effect, and spatial arrangements should be chosen and employed based on the type of information you are writing about.

Exercises for this topic can be found at Essay Writing Outlining and Organizational Strategies Practice

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