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Organizing paragraphs and essays

      One of the primary means of achieving coherence in essays is logical ordering or sequencing of the main points and details of each paragraph in the body of the paper. Once the divisions and details are logically ordered, transition words and devices to signal that order become more natural and obvious to use.
     There are two major steps to the organization process. Both steps should be accomplished during the outlining or planning of your paper after you have decided on the main point of the paper. The first step involves ordering the paragraph topics. You must impose some logical sequence for the paragraphs and have a reason for one paragraph coming first, another next, another next, and so on through the end of your essay. The second step involves ordering the specific sentences as details within each individual paragraph. You must impose a logical order for the various sentences and have a reason for writing one sentence first, another next, and so on through the end of the paragraph. There are various ways to order information. In some cases, your main point will indicate an obvious order to use. In others, you must think awhile to choose an order. Some of the ways you may consider are outlined as follows:

Ordering by Time (Chronological Order): Chronological order is usually used in narration and process analysis, but can be used in other cases as well. first in time last in time season season morning night early late

Ordering by Space (Spatial Order): Ordering from one place to another is usually effective in physical description but can be used in other cases as well. left right top bottom inside outside here there far near

Ordering by Groups or Types (Classification and Comparison): This method involves two steps. The first step is labeling the groups or types by answering the question "What is this paragraph about?" or "What kinds of things are these details about?" The second step arranges the types in Chronological, Spatial, or Emphatic Order. first type second type third type first similarity second similarity third similarity first difference second difference third difference problem first possible solution second possible solution

Order of Importance (Emphatic or Climactic Order): This structure may be used for an entire paragraph or essay or it may be used for portions of an essay. For example, one section of an essay may require sequential organization while another section requires order of importance. Or the similarities in a comparison may need to be arranged emphatically. Most essays move from least to most; however, under some circumstancesfor example, an argument addressed to a skeptical audiencethe strongest point comes first. least important most important easiest hardest least convincing most convincing

NOTE: Effective writing uses combinations of structures as appropriate for communicating information and ideas most logically. Be sure to consider both the internal organization of your paragraphs and the external organization among the various paragraphs. In addition, use transitions and other coherence strategies to enhance the logic.

Last revision: August 4, 2003