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Reading Chronological Order Help

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Updated on Sep 21, 2011

Introduction to Chronological Order

There are many ways to tell a story. Some stories start in the middle and flash backward to the beginning; a few start at the end and tell the story in reverse. In media res is a technique in which the author begins a story in the thick of a conflict or the middle of the story and then flashes back to the key events leading up to the present situation or conflict. The difference between a flashback and simply remembering a past event is that in a flashback a character is actually viewed reliving the past event as if it were occurring in the present. Most of the time, however, stories start at the beginning. Writers often begin with what happened first and then tell what happened next, and next, and so on, until the end. When writers tell a story in this order, from beginning to end in the order in which things happened, they are telling it in chronological order. Chronology is the arrangement of events in the order in which they occurred.

Chronology and Transitions

Much of what you read is arranged in chronological order. Newspaper and magazine articles, minutes of meetings, and explanations of procedures are usually arranged this way. For example, look at the following paragraph that might be found in a company newsletter:

This year's employee award ceremony was a tremendous success. The first award was given to Carlos Fe for Perfect Attendance. The second award, for Most Dedicated Employee, went to Jennifer Steele. Then our president, Martin Lucas, interrupted the awards ceremony to announce that he and his wife were having a baby. When he finished, everyone stood up for a congratulatory toast. Afterward, the third award was given to Karen Hunt for Most Inspiring Employee. Finally, President Lucas ended the ceremony by giving everyone a bonus check for $100.

You'll notice that this paragraph tells what happened at the ceremony from start to finish. You'll also notice that you can tell the order in which things happened in two ways. First, you can tell by the order of the sentences themselves—first things first, last things last. Second, you can tell by the use of transitional words and phrases, which signal a shift from one idea to the next. Here is the same paragraph with the transitional words underlined:

This year's employee award ceremony was a tremendous success. The first award was given to Carlos Fe for Perfect Attendance. The second award, for Most Dedicated Employee, went to Jennifer Steele. Then our president, Martin Lucas, interrupted the awards ceremony to announce that he and his wife were having a baby. When he finished, everyone stood up for a congratulatory toast. Afterward, the third award was given to Karen Hunt for Most Inspiring Employee. Finally, President Lucas ended the ceremony by giving everyone a bonus check for $100.

The underlined words—first, second, then, when, afterward, third, and finally—are transitional words that keep these events linked together in chronological order. Look at how the paragraph sounds without these words:

This year's employee award ceremony was a tremendous success. The award was given to Carlos Fe for Perfect Attendance. The award for Most Dedicated Employee went to Jennifer Steele. Our president, Martin Lucas, interrupted the awards ceremony to announce that he and his wife were having a baby. He finished; everyone stood up for a congratulatory toast. The award was given to Karen Hunt for Most Inspiring Employee. President Lucas ended the ceremony by giving everyone a bonus check for $100.
It doesn't sound quite as good, does it?

Summary

Chronological structure is, of course, a very useful organizational pattern. Events happen in a certain order, so writers often present them in that order. Keep an eye out for the transitional words and phrases that signal this type of organization.

TIP: Both newspaper reporters and detectives possess a keen eye for determining and reporting on a sequence of events. As you are reading a newspaper article, detective story, or novel, note the methods and language that journalists and detectives use to describe the timing, setting, and sequence of key events. Transitional words and phrases that pinpoint the timing of an event include:

  • Then
  • When
  • After
  • Before
  • Yesterday

Practice exercises for this concept can be found at Reading Chronological Order Practice.

More practice exercises for this concept can be found at Reading Comprehension Organization Practice Test.

Test your knowledge at Reading Comprehension Final Practice Test.

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