If you’ve used social media recently, you may have stumbled across a viral video of a boy traversing a mirror maze. It starts with the boy walking cautiously, his outstretched hands occasionally bumping into his own reflection. Soon enough, he starts to get the hang of it, and a clear path appears to open in front of him. Brimming with confidence, he bursts ahead and . . . well, see for yourself.
The boy’s misfortune, while good for a few chuckles, reminds us of the experience of reading a disorganized document. When ideas are organized haphazardly, readers get turned around, unsure where exactly the writer is leading them. In time, those readers may hit a wall and give up.
So how can you ensure your writing doesn't turn into a house of mirrors?
Start by including opening, middle, and closing parts. This three-part structure isn’t an academic invention. Everything that is experienced in a specific sequence includes this familiar structure: a conversation, an email, a movie, a novel, a vacation, a game—even a date.
While you can turn to Write for Business for strategies for each part, today's writing tip focuses on the middle part, a common site of organizational breakdowns.
The middle part is where you explain your main point, break your bad news, or build a case for your product or idea. Because it often includes more details than the other parts, the ideas tend to get muddled. Following a logical pattern of organization will help you avoid misunderstanding.
What pattern of organization should I follow?
When arranging details within the middle, you have many options. Choose the organizational pattern that best fits your topic and purpose, and use related transitions to guide readers through your ideas.
Move chronologically from start to finish. (Use this pattern when you need to tell a story, give instructions, or explain a process.)
be sure to
Move from near to far, left to right, or top to bottom.
next in line
at the back
|on the left
next to it
in the center
on the right
Move from most important to least or from least to most.
|the biggest reason
a final reason
|first of all
Examine the similarities and the differences between two subjects.
in the same way
Outline the causes and effects of a situation.
|as a result
Examine a problem, tracing its causes and effects; then promote a solution.
|as a result of
Begin with general principles and move to specific details.
|the rule states
in this case
|we know that
as a result
in this instance
Begin with specific details and move to general principles.
a pattern shows
|in this spot
in similar spots
we begin to see
as a result
Each of these patterns of organization gets readers from point A to point B with no interference. By choosing a pattern that best fits your topic and purpose, you will clear a path to understanding.