4.3 – Organizing Your Writing

Learning Objectives

  • Understand how and why organizational techniques help writers and readers stay focused.
  • Assess how and when to use chronological order to organize an essay.
  • Recognize how and when to use order of importance to organize an essay.
  • Determine how and when to use spatial order to organize an essay.

The method of organization you choose for your essay is just as important as its content. Without a clear organizational pattern, your reader could become confused and lose interest. The way you structure your essay helps your readers draw connections between the body and the thesis, and the structure also keeps you focused as you plan and write the essay. Choosing your organizational pattern before you outline ensures that each body paragraph works to support and develop your thesis.

This section covers three ways to organize body paragraphs:

  1. Chronological order
  2. Order of importance
  3. Spatial order

When you begin to draft your essay, your ideas may seem to flow from your mind in a seemingly random manner. Your readers, who bring to the table different backgrounds, viewpoints, and ideas, need you to clearly organize these ideas in order to help process and accept them. A solid organizational pattern gives your ideas a path that you can follow as you develop your draft.

Chronological Order

In Chapter 3 “The Writing Process: How Do I Begin?”, you learned that chronological arrangement has the following purposes:

  • To explain the history of an event or a topic
  • To tell a story or relate an experience
  • To explain how to do or to make something
  • To explain the steps in a process

Chronological order is mostly used in expository writing , which is a form of writing that narrates, describes, informs, or explains a process. When using chronological order, arrange the events in the order that they actually happened, or will happen if you are giving instructions. This method requires you to use words such as first, second, then, after that, later, and finally. These transition words guide you and your reader through the paper as you expand your thesis.

For example, if you are writing an essay about the history of the airline industry, you would begin with its conception and detail the essential timeline events up until present day. You would follow the chain of events using words such as first, then, next, and so on.

Using Chronological Order

Using Chronological Order (Text version)

Put the statements in the correct chronological order by numbering them in the order you believe they should be organized into a paragraph.

  1. When I have the shot pulled, I use a milk steamer to steam one cup of milk.
  2. Every morning I make my coffee in the same way for maximum flavour.
  3. Next, I use an espresso machine to pull an espresso shot directly into my coffee cup.
  4. And that’s how I start my day with my perfect latte!
  5. First, I freshly grind my espresso beans.
  6. Finally, I slowly pour the steamed milk into my espresso.

Check your answers: [1]

Activity Source: Self-Practice 5.11 Chronological Order” by Brenna Clark Gray (H5P Adaptation) is based on content from Writing for Success – 1st Canadian Edition by Tara Harkoff & [author removed], licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. / Interactive content extracted to plain text.

Keep in mind that chronological order is most appropriate for the following purposes:

  • Writing essays containing heavy research
  • Writing essays with the aim of listing, explaining, or narrating
  • Writing essays that analyze literary works such as poems, plays, or books


When using chronological order, your introduction should indicate the information you will cover and in what order, and the introduction should also establish the relevance of the information. Your body paragraphs should then provide clear divisions or steps in chronology.

Order of Importance

Recall from Chapter 3 “The Writing Process: How Do I Begin?” that order of importance is best used for the following purposes:

  • Persuading and convincing
  • Ranking items by their importance, benefit, or significance
  • Illustrating a situation, problem, or solution

Most essays move from the least to the most important point, and the paragraphs are arranged in an effort to build the essay’s strength. Sometimes, however, it is necessary to begin with your most important supporting point, such as in an essay that contains a thesis that is highly debatable. When writing a persuasive essay, it is best to begin with the most important point because it immediately captivates your readers and compels them to continue reading.

For example, if you were supporting your thesis that homework is detrimental to the education of high school students, you would want to present your most convincing argument first, and then move on to the less important points for your case.

Some key transitional words you should use with this method of organization are most importantly, almost as importantly, just as importantly, and finally.

Writing at Work

During your career, you may be required to work on a team that devises a strategy for a specific goal of your company, such as increasing profits. When planning your strategy you should organize your steps in order of importance. This demonstrates the ability to prioritize and plan. Using the order of importance technique also shows that you can create a resolution with logical steps for accomplishing a common goal.

Using Order of Importance

Using Order of Importance (Text version)

Put the statements in the correct order of importance by numbering them in the order you believe they should be organized into a paragraph.

  1. Most importantly, it prevents unexpected harm from coming to the dog or to the people and animals he encounters.
  2. Almost as important, though, is the bond that it helps create between the dog and his caretaker.
  3. And finally, dogs love the sense of achievement they feel when they master simple tasks.
  4. For all of these reasons, proper dog training is important and should not be overlooked.
  5. Adequate training is critical to the success of a relationship between a person and their dog.

Check your Answers:[2]

Activity Source: Self-Practice 5.12 Order of Importance” by Brenna Clark Gray (H5P Adaptation) is based on content from Writing for Success – 1st Canadian Edition by Tara Harkoff & [author removed], licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

Spatial Order

As stated in Chapter 3 “The Writing Process: How Do I Begin?”, spatial order is best used for the following purposes:

  • Helping readers visualize something as you want them to see it
  • Evoking a scene using the senses (sight, touch, taste, smell, and sound)
  • Writing a descriptive essay

Spatial order means that you explain or describe objects as they are arranged around you in your space, for example in a bedroom. As the writer, you create a picture for your reader, and their perspective is the viewpoint from which you describe what is around you.

The view must move in an orderly, logical progression, giving the reader clear directional signals to follow from place to place. The key to using this method is to choose a specific starting point and then guide the reader to follow your eye as it moves in an orderly trajectory from your starting point.

Pay attention to the following student’s description of her bedroom and how she guides the reader through the viewing process, foot by foot.

Attached to my bedroom wall is a small wooden rack dangling with red and turquoise necklaces that shimmer as you enter. Just to the right of the rack is my window, framed by billowy white curtains. The peace of such an image is a stark contrast to my desk, which sits to the right of the window, layered in textbooks, crumpled papers, coffee cups, and an overflowing ashtray. Turning my head to the right, I see a set of two bare windows that frame the trees outside the glass like a 3D painting. Below the windows is an oak chest from which blankets and scarves are protruding. Against the wall opposite the billowy curtains is an antique dresser, on top of which sits a jewelry box and a few picture frames. A tall mirror attached to the dresser takes up most of the wall, which is the color of lavender.

The paragraph incorporates two objectives you have learned in this chapter: using an implied topic sentence and applying spatial order. Often in a descriptive essay, the two work together.

The following are possible transition words to include when using spatial order:

  • Just to the left or just to the right
  • Behind
  • Between
  • On the left or on the right
  • Across from
  • A little further down
  • To the south, to the east, and so on
  • A few yards away
  • Turning left or turning right

Using Spatial Order

Using Spatial Order (Text Version)

Put the statements in the correct spatial order by numbering them in the order you believe they should be organized into a paragraph.

  1. The rest of the area within the gate is a meadow of clover and flowers.
  2. Reflecting on this space reminds me that it’s nice to have somewhere to go that is so calm and soothing.
  3. The farmyard is a peaceful and familiar space.
  4. When you first enter the property through the farm gate, there is a red barn to the right.
  5. To the immediate left of the red barn is a pig pen and a chicken coup.
  6. Across the farmyard from the animals is the farmhouse, which has a duck pond in the backyard.

Check your Answers: [3]

Activity Source: Self-Practice 5.13 Spatial Order” by Brenna Clark Gray (H5P Adaptation) is based on content from Writing for Success – 1st Canadian Edition by Tara Harkoff & [author removed], licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

Key Takeaways

  • The way you organize your body paragraphs ensures you and your readers stay focused on and draw connections to, your thesis statement.
  • A strong organizational pattern allows you to articulate, analyze, and clarify your thoughts.
  • Planning the organizational structure for your essay before you begin to search for supporting evidence helps you conduct more effective and directed research.
  • Chronological order is most commonly used in expository writing. It is useful for explaining the history of your subject, for telling a story, or for explaining a process.
  • Order of importance is most appropriate in a persuasion paper as well as for essays in which you rank things, people, or events by their significance.
  • Spatial order describes things as they are arranged in space and is best for helping readers visualize something as you want them to see it; it creates a dominant impression.

Attribution & References

Except where otherwise noted, this chapter is adapted from ” 9.3 Organizing your writing” In Writing for Success by University of Minnesota licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.

  1. 1. b, 2. e, 3. c, 4. a, 5. f, 6. d
  2. 1. e, 2. a, 3. b, 4. c, 5. d.
  3. 1. c, 2. d, 3. e, 4. f, 5. a, 6. b


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Communication Essentials for College Copyright © 2022 by Jen Booth, Emily Cramer & Amanda Quibell, Georgian College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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