I am not the most organized person, but when I get the notion to organize some part of my life, I am dedicated to the project and love the final results.  For example, I might write –

I have a spice drawer and a spice cupboard.  There are tall, slender jars, short round plastic containers, and ancient rectangular tin boxes.  How do I consolidate and efficiently arrange these spice sources?  First, it’s time to replace the rectangular tin boxes; they are so old that they wouldn’t noticeably season any dish anymore.  Then I remove the labels from empty spice bottles I’ve saved, empty the short round plastic containers into the tall glass jars and add new labels.  Now all my containers are similarly sized and can be organized more easily in my spice cupboard.

This example is the start to an essay that will be organized in process, or sequential, order.  When you are writing an article, paper, or blog, it is essential to apply a plan of organization to the body of your work to help your readers digest and remember what you have said.  Most writing is organized with chronological, sequential, spatial, topical, or climactic arrangements.


Common Patterns

The most commonly used and known patterns of organization are also the simplest to apply.  These include chronological, sequential, and spatial patterns.  The chronological organization arranges details as they happen in time, usually from first to last.  If you are writing about an event, you would order things as they occurred.  Stories and histories follow a chronological order.  Sequential arrangements are very similar because they again list details as they should happen in time, but sequential is applied to a process, a step-by-step order, or a description of how something works.  Spatial patterns describe things as they appear in a space:  top to bottom, right to left, east to west, etc.  If I were to describe my now deceased aunt’s vintage kitchen, I would go from her massive enameled stove and move to the right where she had one of the first electric refrigerators and again to the right and her stand-alone sink unit.


Topical and Climactic order

Two other organizational patterns that might apply to papers, articles, and blogs are topical order and climactic order.  The application of topical order fits many situations; many call it a catch-all or  classification/division organization.  It begins with a generalization or broad topic and then follows with equal examples to support that generalization.  Maybe you are writing on the types of California wines; you would organize your work by subcategories.  You might first divide your topic into blush wines, then white wines, and finally red wines.  Under those subcategories, you would write about specific examples of these wines produced in California.


Climactic organization follows a pattern moving from least to most important.  It builds up excitement or curiosity as the paper develops.  This pattern applies to several specific types of writing.  For example, if a cause and effect relationship seems to fit your writing project, then you might order the list of effects in a least-to-most important arrangement.  If you are describing the personality traits of a celebrity, you again might go from least to most important. Compare and contrast essays can be arranged similarly.  A variation to climactic order relies on the belief that the most important information should come at the beginning and the end of a writing piece.  In other words, if you look at your least-to-most important list of evidence or support, you might begin with the second most important item, follow it with the least important items, and finish with the most important.  Similar methods of organization are general to specific (and vice versa), most to least familiar, or simple to complex.


Which pattern should I use?

Looking at your outline should make it easier to consider which logical pattern of organization best fits your project.  When you write, organization is key to making sure that your reader follows your train of thought, remains engaged, and can remember details when the ending arrives.




Diane Repass is a retired tenured assistant professor
from The University of Dubuque and now a beloved
writer for Plaid Swan Inc. She received her M.A. from
The University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa.