Organization

Organization refers to the arrangement of content (e.g., headings/subheadings, parts/sections of a text, ideas, arguments, stories, steps, evidence) into a deliberate order in speech, writing, and visual discourse. Organization refers to a writer or speaker's efforts during composing to interpret and sort information in ways that are most likely to achieve their aims while being responsive to their audience's mindset about the topic. Learn about the organizational patterns that people use to communicate so you can discern the most appropriate way to organize your communications.

Organization Definition

Organization may refer to

  1. the methods — the organizational patterns — that writers use to structure their compositions
  2. different aims of discourse
  3. whether or not phrasessentencesparagraphs cohere with one another
  4. whether or not a writer has established a through-line
  5. the expectations that members of a discourse community share with one another about the best way to organize a composition
  6. a step in the writing process, a composing strategy
  7. evaluative criteria for assessing the appropriateness and quality of a text’s organizational structure
  8. a group of people who are working collaboratively to achieve a purpose; a business; an organization.

In written discourse, organization functions at two levels:

  1. Organization @ the Global Level
  2. Organization @ the Local Level

Synonymous Terms

Organization may also be called

  • Coherence
  • Cohesion
  • Flow
    • Logical Flow
  • Structure
    • Logical Structure
    • Organizational Structure
    • Rhetorical Structure
      • Appeals to Ethos, Pathos

Related Concepts: Genre; Felt Sense; Gestalt; Information Architecture; Organizational Patterns; Rhetorical Analysis; Rhetorical Stance; Unity


Organization is a form of logical reasoning. The moment your reader loses your train of thought, they may skip to reading something else. Photo Credit: “trains of thought” by irisomnibus is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Why Does Organization Matter?

In our contemporary information ecosystem, attracting the attention of your audience can be challenging. Then, once you get the reader’s attention, you must work to keep their interest.

Texts that are well organized are more likely to be read and understood than those that are disorganized. For instance, you are likely to lose your reader the moment you introduce information into your text that is superfluous. If you fail to substantiate a claim with substantive evidence or if you bring in new information that is unrelated to the existing information, your readers are likely to turn their attention elsewhere.

Readers can be fickle. At any moment you make an organizational blunder, your readers may turn away from the text you wrote to pull up Amazon and do some shopping or Netflix to watch a movie. There are, as you know, a universe of distractions.

Thus, during prewriting, revising, and editing — during the very act of composing — you want to continue evaluating the organizational patterns you’ve used in a composition.

8 Definitions of Organization

1. Organization may refer to the methods — the organizational patterns — that writers use to structure their compositions.

Organization refers to the arrangement of content (e.g., headings/subheadings, parts/sections of a text, ideas, arguments, stories, steps, evidence) into a deliberate order in speech, writing, and visual discourse.

Writers have many organizational patterns to choose from. For example, writers may organize a paragraph, a collection of paragraphs, or an entire document using the following organizational patterns:

  1. Causal Order (aka Cause and Effect)
  2. Chronological Order
  3. Compare and Contrast
  4. Deductive Order
  5. Emphatic Order (aka Order of Importance)
  6. Inductive Order (aka Climatic Order)
  7. Logical Order
  8. Problem and Solution Order
  9. Instructions or Process Order (aka Sequential Order)
  10. Spatial Order

2. Organization may refer to different aims of discourse

The organization of a text reflects a writer’s aims. Different discourse aims invoke different organizational patterns. For instance, you would organize an argument about a red light ticket differently than you would organize a wedding speech at your best friend’s wedding or a lengthy recommendation report.

Organization, like style, is a reflection of a writer’s content. Different aims of discourse call for different organizational patterns, as suggested by the table below.

RecordKeep a record of events or information
Reflect/ExploreWrite in a journal, attempt to make sense of something or to shape a new idea
InformObjectively report an event.
Demonstrate KnowledgeProve, in school, that you’ve learned course content
SummarizeReport someone else’s words, theories, and research in your own words
ExplainHelp readers understand a difficult concept, theory, or event
AnalyzeBreak down a problem into parts
PersuadeChange minds, invoke action
TheorizeSpeculate on possible causes and effects
EntertainBring joy, amazement, and thrills
Aims of Discourse

3. Organization may refer to whether or not phrases, sentences, paragraphs cohere with one another.

At the local level, coherence refers to how well phrases, sentences, paragraphs, and sections flow together to produce meaning. Across communities of practice, people expect writers to produce sentences and paragraphs that relate to one another. In school and workplace writing, sentences and paragraphs that jump from one idea to another are viewed to be writer-based rather than reader-based.

At the global level, you can create coherence in your texts by

  1. clarifying your purpose for writing
  2. explaining how a document is organized — it’s organizational structure
  3. explicitly introducing the argument, thesis, theory, hypothesis, research question that unifies the composition
  4. explicitly explaining how new evidence relates to the previous discussion and the unifying thesis.

4. Organization may refer to whether or not a writer has established a through-line

A through-line is a metaphor. In this metaphor the through-line represents the line of logical reasoning and rhetorical reasoning that runs through a paper. In this organizational pattern, the writer

Compositions with a through-line may be described as

  • unified
  • professional
  • logical, well structured.

5. Organization may refer to the expectations that members of a discourse community share with one another about the best way to organize a composition.

Organization is a social process. Together, writers and readers are members of a discourse community. They share expectations about how to tackle problems. They share tools, including a lexis (i.e., specialized vocabulary), grammar, and mechanics (e.g., conventions for spelling, emphasis, and punctuation). They share an archive, a textual history, and a canon–an intellectual tradition of works that contributed substantively to human knowledge.

Textual expectations — which are reflected in the discourse conventions of particular discourse communities — are grounded in the textual practices of a discipline. For instance, the texts of professionals trained in finance are likely to engage in a great deal of quantitative analysis whereas the texts of professionals in history are more likely to engage in historiographical analysis, perhaps explicating different texts in an archive.

Disciplines, such as business, legal, and science communities, share unique citation methods, genres, research methods, and media. A good part of becoming credentialed in a discipline is mastering its textual practices. Taken as a whole, those textual practices function as a form of organization. Thus, it’s not surprising that one of the first moves most writers make is looking for exemplars. When faced with an exigency, a call to write, shrewd writers engage in strategic searching to identify exemplars and better understand the status of a scholarly conversation on a topic.

6. Organization may refer to a step in the writing process, a composing strategy

In the Writing Studies community, organization is perceived to be a step in the writing process: In the simplest models of composing, organization follows prewriting and drafting, but comes before revision and editing.

During composing, writers focus on the organization of their ideas. To communicate with others, writers understand they need to organize their message so that it meets the expectations of their audience(s). In workplace writing contexts where audiences are not reading for pleasure as they would a novel but instead are trying to extract the gist from every message as quickly as possible, writers are eager to

In turn, in academic writing contexts, writers organize their works according to the prevailing writing style of other academic authors. For instance, Swales & Feak (1990) researched the rhetorical moves that academic writers make in peer-reviewed research articles. They found that authors are likely to make these three moves, often on page one of their articles:

  1. Move 1 Establishing a territory
  2. Move 2 Establishing a niche
  3. Move 3 Occupying the niche.

Resources

7. Organization may refer to evaluative criteria for assessing the appropriateness and quality of a text’s organizational structure

In school settings, teachers often grade papers for organization. In work settings, poor organization leads to lost clients and revenue. (The table below presents 4 columns, moving from Inadequate to Exceeds Expectations. You may need to use your mouse to slide over and see the 3rd and 4th columns.)

InadequateNeeds ImprovementMeets ExpectationsExceeds Expectations
Absent or unclear introduction and conclusion

Unclear thesis/purpose/research question

Unclear organizational plan

Absent, inconsistent, or non-relevant topic sentences & transitions

Unclear or absent formatting

Confusing, underdeveloped introduction and conclusion

Lack of clarity about thesis/purpose/research question

Unclear organizational plan

Lacks cohesiveness. Illogical progression of supporting points. May have abrupt or illogical shifts and ineffective flow of ideas

Rambling format

Clear, if underdeveloped, introduction and conclusion

Clear thesis/purpose/research question

Clear organizational structure with some digressions, ambiguities or irrelevancies. Inconsistent use of topic sentences, segues, transitions

Cohesive. Transitions are mostly appropriate. Sequence of ideas could be improved. Ideas wander at times

Structured format

Engaging introduction & conclusion

Fully & imaginatively supports thesis/purpose/research question

Cohesive. Sequence of ideas is effective. Transitions are effective

Professional format facilitates scanning

This rubric is adapted from rubrics designed by Northeastern Illinois University and the University of Washington

8. Organization may refer to a group of people who are working collaboratively to achieve aims:

“Organization is working together in a coordinated way to achieve goals. All social species, such as bees, ants and apes, organize, and humans have done so since prehistoric times. Organization allowed individuals to specialize and increase efficiency. The development of economies and institutions led to trade between organizations, and eventually globalization. It is difficult to directly compare an organization with the act of organizing. Organizations can be thought of in many different ways, such as machines, living organisms, cultures, and psychic prisons” (Hatch 2011).

References

Hatch, Mary Jo, ‘What is organization?’Organizations: A Very Short Introduction, Very Short Introductions (Oxford, 2011; online edn, Oxford Academic, 24 Sept. 2013), https://doi.org/10.1093/actrade/9780199584536.003.0001accessed 6 Mar. 2023.
Swales, J. & C. Feak (2004). Academic Writing for Graduate Students: Essential Tasks and Skills. 2. udgave. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press

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