Many people find organising their writing difficult, but good organisation is a key to effective writing. You should always plan what you write before you start writing. Having a plan helps you develop a logical order for your writing and helps prevent you from repeating yourself or leaving out important information. A plan can be anything from a few jotted notes to an elaborate numbered outline.
Most writing has a three-part structure: introduction, body and conclusion. Your introduction should tell readers about the aim, contents and conclusions of the writing. The body should present your arguments, facts and information in a logical order your readers can follow. Your conclusion should summarise the information and report your findings, conclusions or recommendations.
Developing an outline
Try using the following steps to develop an outline to help plan your writing:
1. Make a list of general topics you want to cover. Don’t worry about their order yet but make sure you don’t leave anything out.
2. Under each topic, enter key words, examples, arguments, facts or sub-topics to help you remember what you want to write.
3. Decide the order of the items under each topic and mark them. If any topic has too many sub-topics under it, break it down into separate topics.
4. Review your outline for relevance to your aims and audience. Delete any item that is not essential.
5. Number the topics in the order you want to present the information or ideas.
If you are writing a short letter or memo, you may only need to make a list of topics, review their relevance to your aims and audience, and then put them in the order you want.
You don’t have to stick rigidly to your outline but can change it as you investigate and research your supporting material. Having an outline before you research helps to shape your thinking, but don’t let it prematurely dictate your final piece of writing. For example, as you research background information, you may find there are other important points to include and so have to fit them into your outline.
So let your outline help focus and organise but not obstruct or inhibit your thinking and writing.
Ordering your writing
There are many ways to order writing and you must decide each time you write which is the most suitable. The order you use in writing influences your readers because it shapes their thinking. Here are some of the ways of ordering writing:
- Descending order of importance – most important first
- Ascending order of importance – most important last
- Ascending order of complexity – simplest first
- Categorical order – setting categories to consider information under
- Chronological order – setting sequence of events
Although all these ways have their uses, the most useful are categorical order and descending order of importance. Categories are useful because they allow readers to move through the document easily and not miss important information. Putting your most important information or arguments first means your readers are more likely to read them.
However, as you develop your outline, think which method of ordering best suits your subject and your readers.