How to Organise Writing 1: ‘for & against’

OrganiseWritingBlogTitle1It’s one thing to have good ideas. And quite another to write about them in an organised way. Yet effective organisation – or structure – is really important, whether you’re writing an academic paper, a business letter or copy for your website.

Why to Organise Writing

1. Relevance.
The topic and scope of a well-organised piece of writing is clear almost immediately. Readers can quickly decide whether or not it’s relevant for them. They won’t waste time reading further, only to turn away in frustration (not good for your reputation) when they eventually realise your subject matter isn’t what they’re looking for.

2. Flow.
Well-organised writing follows a logical sequence where each paragraph adds to the overall meaning. Well-organised writing guides readers through your ideas so that they can understand them without getting confused and/or having to re-read.

3. Content.
Time-poor readers (the vast majority!) want content that’s thorough and concise. Writing that’s thoughtfully structured is more likely to be comprehensive and less likely to be repetitive. You won’t impress or endear yourself to readers by failing to cover key aspects of your topic or by repeating yourself.

Ways to Organise Writing

There are many ways of structuring your writing, depending on your topic, audience and purpose.

This post shows you how to plan and write using ‘for & against’ organisation. You can download 2 helpful planning tools and a complete sample or model.

‘For & against’ organisation is useful for structuring writing that covers the pros and cons or contrasting opinions about an issue.

Other useful organising principles include chronology, ‘simple to complex’, ‘generic to specific’, ‘problem & solution’ and ’cause & effect’. I’ll be covering them in future posts in my ‘How to Write’ blog series. (To make sure you don’t miss them, why not sign up to receive my posts by email? It’s free. Just complete the ‘FREE writing resources’ box on the right.)

Organise Writing Step-by-Step: ‘For & Against’

Click on the graphics below to download 3 documents: a brainstorming tool, a structure & language tool, and a completed writing sample illustrating ‘for & against’ organisation.

The issue illustrated in the tools and the sample is this: Should School Uniform be Compulsory? I deliberately chose a topic that’s simple and unlikely in your own writing (but let me know!), so that you can focus on the way it’s organised using paragraphing and particular language expressions. Keep reading – this gets clearer.

A. Brainstorm Ideas

The first step in organising your writing is to get your ideas down on paper/screen. The brainstorming tool is a simple table where you simply note reasons ‘for’ and ‘against’ your issue. Compare it to the final writing sample to see how the ideas that begin as jottings in a table are developed into coherent paragraphs.

Rushing to meet a deadline? Don’t be tempted to miss this step or to do it ‘in your head’. This step actually saves you time in the long run. I’ve seen it again and again in my clients’ work. The writing step is so much easier when you have a simply stated list of reasons to work from.

OrganiseWritingBrainCollage1

B. Paragraphs & Useful Phrases

The second step in organising your writing is to plan paragraphs, content and useful phrases. Check out the structure & language tool.

In this example, the useful phrases are fairly formal but they don’t need to be. Note that if your style is less formal, you still need to guide your readers through your writing with phrases that remind  them what’s been covered and what’s coming up. So, instead of ‘Firstly..’, you might write ‘Let’s start with ..’ or ‘To kick off ..’; and instead of ‘In conclusion’, you might say ‘So to wrap this up’.

OrganiseWritingStructureCollage1Each row in the table represents one or more paragraphs. The first paragraph is where you state your topic and the purpose of your writing.

In the second paragraph, give your ‘for’ arguments. The sample includes just one sentence for each argument. As per the notes on the table, your writing may include more detail about each argument and/or an example. I suggest that if it takes 3 or more sentences to cover each argument, you may want to start a new paragraph for each one.

In the paragraph(s) following the ‘for’ arguments, write your ‘against’ arguments.

The writing sample gives the writer’s own opinion in the final paragraph. This may be appropriate, depending on what you’re writing. It may also be appropriate to summarise the ‘for’ and ‘against’ arguments in the final paragraph, especially if they’re complicated.

C. Drafting, Proofreading and Editing

The third step is to write your draft, or ‘rough copy’. Expect it to be far from polished. You’ve focused on the organisation: putting your ideas into paragraphs using the appropriate language signals. From here, proofreading will get rid of typos, spelling mistakes and careless errors. And editing will improve your sentences by ensuring that they are grammatically accurate, clear, and concise.

D. Final Copy

OrganiseWritingSampleCollage1Here’s a checklist for your final text:

  • Does a short introduction tell readers the topic and purpose of your writing?
  • Do you use ‘signals‘ to guide your reader through a logical flow of ideas? Signals include: ‘First of all’, ‘Another reason ..’, ‘In addition’, ‘In contrast’, ‘On the other hand’, ‘Lastly’, etc.
  • Is each of your arguments / points clearly expressed in short sentences that are accurate and clear?
  • Do you use paragraphs to break up the writing into logical sections?
  • Is there some kind of conclusion to round off your writing?

~

I’m wondering how other people go about organising their writing. Tell us what works (or doesn’t work) for you in the comments below. And feel free to share this resource with friends, colleagues or students.

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Comments

  1. Great breakdown of the necessary steps to take. Very detailed. Love the examples, too. They help for actually implementing your recommendations.

    • Thank you, Sarah. The purpose of the examples is exactly that – to help you see how to follow the steps. I’m thrilled that it’s coming across that way. If there are other types of writing that you’d like to see steps or examples for, please let me know.

  2. Love this, so helpful and insightful…..Thankyou!!

  3. Genius says:

    ….I love that – ‘your comment is awaiting moderation’. As if my use of the English language was average enough to warrant vetting…? Still, I understand that you might only want writing what’s proper on your site!

  4. Genius says:

    great email Green. I so much like really good writing – like speaking another language, I’m always so impressed when other folk can do something I’m not very good at…

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