The description of strong writing varies in different parts of the world. Just as values for many other topics change from culture to culture, what constitutes good writing also changes. It is therefore important to help your students write well in English and to teach them what strong writing in English looks like.
In English one of the most important strategies in writing is organization of content. A strong English writer is a guide to his or her reader leading him or her along the logical arguments in the piece. Following are six ways to do this effectively. If your students can understand and apply these organizational strategies, they will be far along the road to successful writing in English.
How to Organize Writing Content
Chronology, or time, is the most straightforward way to organize content in a piece of writing. Students should easily grasp the concept of starting at the earliest historical event and progressing toward the most recent or vice versa. This is also a good organization strategy when examining the change in one element (e.g. gender in literature) over time or to show how one idea, place or thing has changed over time.
Familiarity and Importance
Unlike chronology, organizing content by either familiarity or importance is more subjective. In this type of organization, students begin with the most familiar topic or concept and move toward the most obscure, the least important toward the most important. They can also begin with the most simple and move to the most complex. This type of organization will build momentum in writing. You should warn your students to always keep in mind the target audience when organizing by familiarity to be most effective. Though eating frog may be quite familiar in a restaurant in Beijing, most Americans have not ever had the experience and would view the idea of it quite unfamiliar. It would therefore be placed toward the end of the written piece.
Compare and Contrast
Comparisons look at the similarities between two or more items, contrasts look at the differences. Though an organizational strategy may be to compare and contrast, stress to your students that this is never the purpose in writing. This organizational strategy works well when the writer is trying to present one item as superior to another, to explain an unknown item by comparing it to a known item, or to show how something has changed. Most academic papers both compare and contrast rather than focusing on just one or the other. There are two ways to organize writing when comparing and contrasting. A point by point organization takes each element of comparison or contrast and examines both items in relation to it separately. For example, a writer may examine the science of both food and beauty, then the social roles of food and beauty and then the psychological importance of both food and beauty. A block organization, on the other hand, presents all the information about one item before moving on to the next. In the same piece, block organization would present the topic of food and examine its science, social role and psychological importance. Then the writer would examine beauty on those same three points. If students are comparing more than two points, point by point organization will be more effective.
General and Particular
This type of organization takes broad generalizations and moves towards specific statements or starts with specific statements and compiles them into a general conclusion or statement. This is not the same as having a thesis statement and supporting it with details. One example of broad to general would be to examine the short stories of Edgar Allen Poe as a whole and move towards specific issues he includes in this writing such as death and revenge. Narrow to broad examination might begin examining state laws and then move to national laws. This type of organization can be used effectively when examining a larger item along with its component pieces.
Problem and Solution
A more straightforward organization examines the relationships between problems and solutions. This type of organization will do one of two things. It will state a problem and offer multiple solutions concluding with a recommendation or it will begin with a question, make multiple proposals or attempts and conclude with the outcome. This type of organization is most effective with scientific research where the writer formulates a hypothesis, evaluates the proposals and concludes with a solution to the problem.
Cause and Effect
A cause and effect organizational strategy examines the causal relationships throughout a paper. There are three ways to organize with a cause and effect scheme. The first begins with one event and examines the multiple causes. For example, a student may want to discuss the causes of drug abuse listing peer pressure, medical need and addictive tendencies in the argument. Another student may follow the second strategy which looks at the multiple effects of one course of action or cause. This student may look at the issue of high caloric intake and present the effects of weight gain, insulin imbalance and susceptibility to diabetes. A third strategy for cause and effect organization is a chain of causes and effects which begins with one event and follows the chain reaction to the end result. One example of this might be to examine the chain of events in which the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand led to World War I.
Though the specific organizational strategy will have to be decided after the student determines the writing purpose, knowledge of these six organizational strategies will give your students the tools they need to communicate successfully in English.
You may want to stick with chronology, familiarity and cause/effect with lower level students, but those who wish to be successful in academia or business would do well to understand all of them.
Susan likes to enjoy every day to its fullest whether she is freelance writing, teaching homeschoolers, or developing her special talent of instigation. When she is not imagining sand castles or catching others off balance, she cooks, sings, reads and takes walks in the sunshine. She earned an M.A. from the University of Delaware in Linguistics and an M.A. from Trinity School for Ministry in Youth Ministry. She currently lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with her wonderful husband and her three cheepy cockatiels.
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