Organizing for Understanding


—Bite-sized advice for better business writing—

July 31, 2019

Organizing for Understanding

“Good order is the foundation of all things.”

— Edmund Burke

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.)

start by
continue with
be sure to
finish by


Move from near to far, left to right, or top to bottom.

in front
beyond that
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
another reason
in addition
a final reason
first of all
most importantly


Examine the similarities and the differences between two subjects.

in the same way
in contrast


Outline the causes and effects of a situation.

due to
the reason
the catalyst
as a result
the outcome
the conclusion


Examine a problem, tracing its causes and effects; then promote a solution.

because of
proposing a
eliminating the
as a result of
creates issues
suggesting a
changing the


Begin with general principles and move to specific details.

the rule states
it follows
in this case
an example
we know that
as a result
in this instance
the evidence


Begin with specific details and move to general principles.

a clue
another clue
a pattern shows
in conclusion
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.


Choose the Best Pattern 

Select the best organizational pattern for the following writing situations. Scroll to the bottom to see our recommendations. 

  1. You need to explain the similarities and differences between two insurance plans.
  2. You need to show what led to an event and what resulted from it. 
  3. You need to report a major accounting error and offer ways to resolve it.  
  4. You need to explain your organization's procedure for requesting time off. 
  5. You need to organize a report that notes specific trends in sales and suggests an overall pattern to watch for in the future.

Get More Support

Check out Write for Business for more help with organization.


Editor's Recommendations

  1. Compare/contrast: This pattern helps you discuss two topics side by side.
  2. Cause/effect: This works well when you want to show the reasons something happened and its effects afterward.
  3. Problem/solution: This pattern helps you explain a problem and promote a specific solution to it.
  4. Time: This pattern lets you organize steps so that readers can follow them one by one.
  5. Inductive: This pattern leads from specific observations to a general conclusion—a hypothesis about a pattern that can be tested to see if it is true.