I am kind of obsessed with how we organize writing. This obsession is not just about academic writing in the form of essays, short stories, and school assignments. I think about this for emails, conversations, and communication in general. If you haven’t thought about organization beyond academic writing, consider the way people organize an email, a meeting, or a conversation. Communication is most effective for a reader, listener, or collaborator when it is well organized, and the tools we use for organizing writing help us learn to organize our other communication as well.
When it comes to writing, it’s not that I don’t care about the artfulness of word choice, or how one uses phrases to create rhythm, rhyme, and images that engage an audience. I do. But I also think there’s not a lot of point to putting your energy into the magic of language unless you’ve done the work of creating a structure that allows those excellent word choices to make an impact. Organization is the foundation that allows one’s writing to communicate well.
There are aspects of organization that are true for all writing. No matter what you are writing, there is an introduction, a middle, and a conclusion. By the time students reach middle and high school, they have had this explained in essay form: introduction, one or more body paragraphs, and a conclusion. But it is true in all writing, and all storytelling in general. If you are reading a short story or novel, there is an introduction in which you meet the characters you will be spending time with, learn where they are, and what their conflict might be. Then you get into the body of the story — the details of the conflict and events connected to it. The story concludes with a resolution that wraps up the story and its conflict. A well-written email does this too, and so does a good conversation, or even an argument.
When I begin working on a writing project with a student, the first step in the writing process is to identify what that student will write about, and then we brainstorm what is important to include in that writing. When we get to the third step – organization – we spend the time we need to get this right before moving on. There are some guidelines that I follow when helping writers structure their writing and decide what does and does not go in different parts of their writing:
- An introduction is for letting people know what you are going to be writing about, and getting them interested in reading more. It is where you commit to the idea you want to spend the rest of your writing on. The introduction is not for making an argument or explaining your idea.
- The body of your writing is for explaining all the reasons you chose the idea you committed to in your introduction. All the things you want to say about this idea and why it is important goes here. All of it. Don’t save ideas for some other later place because this is where all belongs. For nonfiction, you share your arguments, your beliefs and ideas. If you are writing fiction, this is where all your characters’ great adventures happen, where they have revelations and learn lessons. It is not a place for information or ideas that do not relate to the idea you committed to in the introduction.
- The conclusion is where you tell the reader why this all matters, and why they went on this journey with you. It reminds the reader the idea you committed to way back in the introduction, all the ways you explored that idea, and tells them why these ideas were worth the time they spent reading your writing. It is not for introducing new ideas, evidence, or conflicts that did not exist in earlier parts of your writing.
Using this organization to write effectively and engagingly is one way I help students write well and with confidence. Do you know a student who needs help writing in a way that effectively communicates their ideas in school assignments? Do you need help learning to craft effective communication in life and work? Let’s work together to get you the tools you need to be heard and understood.