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Part I. Basics/Process

  A. Chapters 1-6: Start

  B. Ch. 7-13: Organize

  C. Ch. 14-20: Revise/Edit

Part II. College Writing

   D. Ch. 21-23: What Is It?

   E. Ch. 24-30: Write on Rdgs.

   F. Ch.31-35: Arguments

  G. Ch. 36-42: Research

  H. Ch. 43-48: Literature

   I.  Ch. 49-58: Majors & Work

Part III. Grammar

 Study Questions




This brief, introductory chapters describes what basic "organizing" means and when it is used.


How should you organize a college or professional paper?  Is there one standard method?  What do college instructors or bosses expect?  What you will learn from the chapters in this "Organizing" section is how the average successful college writer (and professional worker) learns to construct the skeleton or inner joists and beams of his or her papers according to specific plans or maps, just as someone building a house must make the internal structure of it from an architectural design before adding outer and inner walls and floorboards.  The methods in the chapters of this section are based on the learning and the trial-and-error experiments of millions of college students and professional workers.  It is how most college students and professional workers actually learn to write, whether they receive good instruction on how to do this or simply develop their skills through their own step-by-step experiences. 

First, when does organization start?  This depends on the type of paper you are writing and how your instructor wants you to proceed. 

You've seen and heard of many methods in the "Starting" section, especially in the "Focus" and the "First Drafts" chapters.  Often, instructors who are teaching advanced high school writing, developmental/basic writing in college, or college-level composition want you to start with a system often called "freewriting."  On the other hand, instructors in other college courses and in the work world expect you to start with a specific structure that is specific to their discipline or profession.  Students' needs for structure also differ: some students start better by just simply taking a subject and writing about it.  Sometimes it works better if they are told that they are going to "argue for or against it" or "analyze it." 

Other students work better if they know a very specific structure for starting.  The chapters in the earlier "Starting" section discussed very thoroughly a wide variety of ways of just simply going ahead and freewriting--writing freely.  The chapters in this "Organizing" section discuss a variety of organizational methods--which can be used either for starting a paper or for revising it.

Whether you start with an organizational scheme or you simply start with freewriting, organization is very important as a first step in revising.  You need to check your overall organization to see if it is correct.  And you need to check the smaller organizational details--the formation and order of paragraphs and sentences within them--to be sure that they most strongly and most clearly convey your ideas.

How should you format college papers if your teacher already is expecting a specific structure when you start?  Different departments and disciplines have different organizational expectations. 

For example, an upper-division (junior or senior) business class instructor will expect a very distinct format when you are asked to write a "proposal" or a "recommendation report"; an instructor in an upper-division psychology course will want a rather specific format if he or she assigns you a "case study"; a lab course will have a specific format for a "lab report" or "scientific report"; and, as most people recognize, a journalism instructor will expect several different forms, each distinctive, such as a news article, an editorial, and a magazine interview.  There are many other formats, as well, ones that you will need to learn as you go through disciplinary and departmental courses and majors.  Some of the most important and basic of these are represented in the chapters in this online handbook.

Is there a signicant difference between larger organizational concerns--the overall structure of the paper--vs. smaller organizing details such as paragraphing and making sentences?  The answer is "yes." 

Basically, organizing is what well-known writing theorist Peter Elbow, who developed the method of writing called "process writing," calls "macro-organizing."  Macro-organizing means developing, moving around, or building the larger organizational parts: the overall order of your several main ideas; the arrangement of your body sections, introduction, and conclusion; and the order of your paragraphs within body sections.  These blocks, parts, or sections need to be moved around according to the type of college paper you have been assigned, how you want to present the material, and sometimes a particular way of organizing that your own professor prefers.  The best ways to determine these factors is to take an introductory course or two on how to write college papers, to ask each teacher for sample student papers from his or her previous students, and to ask the professor questions during class and before or after it (well before the due date!). 

Once you have completed macro-organization, then you can turn to what Peter Elbow calls "micro-organizing."  Some people think of micro-organizing as additional revision; others think of it as editing.  Whichever you prefer to call it, it involves organizing each individual paragraph's beginning, middle, and end; adding transition words and phrases; and, if helpful, rearranging the order of words within sentences so the sentences are more effective, clear, and powerful.  Both macro-organizing and micro-organizing are necessary steps of the process of writing when you learn how to write a new type of paper or for a new type of audience.  As you become experienced in a type of paper and the audience for whom you write, the time you spend in organizing often will decrease because you know how to order your thoughts and how to express them for that particular situation.

The chapters in this section talk about organizing at the overall design level, and at the paragraph level.  They also discuss how to use specific types of sentences effectively in body sections and paragraphs--sentences such as topic sentences and concluding sentences.  For revising in closer detail--such as how to best write an individual sentence, how to control its grammar, and how to use punctuation, see the chapters in the "Revising" section, which comes after this section.


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  7. What Is "Organizing"?

  8. Major Organization

  9. Basic Layouts

10. Typical Section

11. Paragraph Patterns

12. Intros & Conclusions

13. Details & Images



Activities Page


Universal Organizer


 Related Links in

  7. Organizing and Paragraphs

19. Visual & Multimodal Design




Updated 1 Aug. 2013

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1st through 5th Editions:: Writing for School & Work, 1984-1998;, 1998-2012.
6th Edition: 8-1-12, rev. 8-1-13.  Text, design, and photos copyright 2002-12 by R. Jewell or as noted.
Permission is hereby granted for nonprofit educational copying and use without a written request.
Images courtesy of Barry's Clip Art, Clip Art Warehouse, The Clip Art Universe, Clipart Collection, MS Clip Art Gallery and Design Gallery Live, School Discovery, and Web Clip Art
Click here to contact the author: Richard Jewell.  Questions and suggestions are welcome.