How to Effectively Organize a Paper

Theresa Torisky


Organization is a skill that takes much practice and critical thinking. You need to think about the information you have and analyze it in terms of similarities and differences among the information. You also need to analyze your information in terms of making the best argument for your main point. The first time you try to organize your information, you might get frustrated. That's ok. As you continue thinking and writing, your ideas on how to group the information you have will probably change. This can occur at the paragraph level or even at the sentence level. For instance, I've just decided that I'd like these last few sentences to come before the one I wrote earlier, so I am going to use cut and paste to reorganize my sentences! You will probably end up re-organizing your information a number of times before you turn in the final draft of your paper. (This sentence used to be after "That's ok.") Organizing a paper can be like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle--only you don't have the picture on the box to help you know what the final product should look like! How frustrating! That's why you need to be patient with yourself and realize that organizing your ideas will be an ongoing process which you will probably be doing the entire time you are writing your paper. Give yourself permission to tinker and tinker and tinker, until your ideas make as much sense as they are going to at the time you turn in your paper. One final thought: Be careful your ideas don't end up sounding repetitive! You want to make one point and then move on to another point. As you continue thinking and writing, you will probably need to check for repetitiveness because the way our brains work, we do tend to repeat ourselves if we feel we haven't fully made our point!


1. Ask yourself at the outset: What is the major point I would like to get across? What are the most convincing pieces of evidence I have to back up my point? How can I divide these into sub-categories? What are my most intriguing bits of information? How do they relate to each other and to my thesis? In what order would it make the most sense to put these ideas? What is my rationale for putting my ideas in this particular order? Is there another possible order to put these ideas in? Why did I choose this way of organizing my ideas as opposed to another way? (This one used to be number 6, but I decided it should go first-so I'm cutting and pasting!) 2. Use different colored highlighters to group together common ideas. You can use this method on prewriting or a rough draft. 3. Come up with sub-categories, and then use a labeling system to identify the different sub-categories either in your prewriting or on your rough draft. 4. Use webbing or clustering to organize information--either at the prewriting stage or to web or cluster information already written in rough draft form. 5. Make a scratch outline--either of prewriting ideas or of ideas already written in rough draft form to see how ideas might need to be re-organized.

6. At the rough draft stage, underline topic sentences and then see if all the ideas in each paragraph reflect the topic sentence. Also check to see if any of the topic sentences are actually repetitions of the same ideas. In addition, check to see if all of your points are represented. If not, you probably need to create another topic sentence--and another paragraph. Finally, look at the order of your topic sentences. Is this the order in which you want your main points to appear in your paper? Are there nice transitions between each paragraph? 7. Remember, if you get stuck, you can always go back and clarify your thinking-beause writing is a RECURSIVE process!



Consider:What is the topic?

Why is it significant?

What background material is relevant?

What is my thesis or purpose statement?

What organizational plan will best support my purpose?


present relevant background or contextual material

define terms or concepts when necessary

explain the focus of the paper and your specific purpose

reveal your plan of organization


use your outline and prospectus as flexible guides

build your essay around points you want to make (i.e., don't let your sources organize your paper)

integrate your sources into your discussion

summarize, analyze, explain, and evaluate published work rather than merely reporting it

move up and down the "ladder of abstraction" from generalization to varying levels of detail back to generalization


if the argument or point of your paper is complex, you may need to summarize the argument or your reader if prior to your conclusion you have not yet explained the significance of your findings or if you are proceeding inductively, use the end of your paper to add your points up, to explain their significance move from a detailed to a general level of consideration that returns the topic to the context provided by the introduction perhaps suggest what about this topic needs further research


check overall organization: logical flow of introduction, coherence and depth of discussion in body, effectiveness of conclusion paragraph level concerns: topic sentences, sequence of ideas within paragraphs, use of details to support generalizations, summary sentences where necessary, use of transitions within and between paragraphs sentence level concerns: sentence structure, word choices punctuation, spelling


An outline is:
	* A logical, general description
	* A schematic summary
	* An organizational pattern
	* A visual and conceptual design of your writing
An outline reflects logical thinking and correct classification. 

	* Aids you in the process of writing
	* Helps organize your ideas
	* Presents your material in a logical form
	* Shows the relationship of ideas in your writing
* Constructs an ordered overview of your writing * Defines boundaries and groups

Before you begin:
* Determine the purpose of your paper.
	* Determine the thesis of your paper.
	* Determine the audience you are writing for.
	* Brainstorm - List all the ideas you want to include in 		this writing.
	* Organize - Group ideas together that are related to each 		other.
* Order - Divide this material into groups arranging from the general to the specific, or from abstract to concrete.
	* Label - Create main and subtopic headings and write 			coordinate levels in parallel form.

An outline has a balanced structure which uses the principles of:
	* Parallelism
	* Coordination
	* Subordination
	* Division
Whenever possible, in writing an outline, coordinate heads should be expressed in parallel form. That is, nouns should be made parallel with nouns, verb forms with verb forms, adjectives with adjectives, and so on. (Example: Nouns - computers, programs, users; Verbs - to compute, to program, to use; Adjectives - home computers, new programs, experienced users.) Although parallel structure is desired, logical and clear writing should not be sacrificed simply to maintain parallelism (For example, there are times when nouns and gerunds used at the same level of an outline are acceptable.) Reasonableness and flexibility of form is preferred to rigidity.

In outlining, those items which are of equal significance have comparable numeral or letter designations; an A is equal a B, a 1 to a 2, an a to a b, etc. Coordinates should be seen as "having the same value." Coordination is a principle that enables the writer to maintain a coherent and consistent document.
Correct coordination
	A. Word processing programs
	B. Data base programs
	C. Spreadsheet programs
Incorrect coordination
	A. Word processing programs
	B. Wordstar
	C. Thinktank
Explanation: Wordstar is a type of word processing program and should be treated as a subdivision. Thinktank is a type of organizational program. One way to correct coordination would be:
	A. Types of programs
		1. Wordstar
		2. Thinktank
	B. Evaluation of programs
		1. Wordstar
		2. Thinktank
In order to indicate relevance, that is levels of significance, an outline uses major and minor heading. Thus in ordering ideas you should organize material from general to specific or from abstract to concrete - the more general or abstract the concept, the higher the level or rank in the outline. This principle allows your material to be ordered in terms of logic and requires a clear articulation of the relationship between component parts used in the outline. Subdivisions of a major division should always have the same relationship to the whole.
Correct subordination
	A. Word processing programs
		1. Applewriter
		2. Wordstar
	B. Thought processors
		1. Thinktank
		2. THOR
Faulty subordination
	A. Word processing programs
		1. Applewriter
		2. Useful
		3. Obsolete
Explanation: There is an A without a B. Also 1, 2, 3 are not equal; Applewriter is a type of word processing program, and useful and obsolete are qualities. One way to correct this faulty subordination is:
	A. Applewriter
		1. Positive features
		2. Negative features
	B. Wordstar
		1. Positive features
		2. Negative features
To divide you always need at least two parts; therefore, there can never be an A without a B, a 1 without a 2, an a without a b, etc. Usually there is more than one way to divide parts; however, when dividing use only one basis of division at each rank and make the basis of division as sharp as possible.
Example 1:
	A. Microcomputers hardware
		1. Types
		2. Cost
		3. Maintenance
	B. Microcomputers software
Example 2
	A. Computers
		1. Mainframe
		2. Micro
			a. Floppy Disk
			b. Hard disk
	B. Computer Uses
		1. Institutional
		2. Personal
The most important rule for outlining form is to be consistent!!
A TOPIC outline uses words or phrases for all entries; uses no punctuation after entries
Advantages - presents a brief overview of work; is generally easier and faster to write than a sentence outline
A SENTENCE outline uses complete sentences for all entries; uses correct punctuation
Advantages - presents a more detailed overview of work including possible topic sentences; is easier and faster for writing the final paper.
An outline can use Roman Numerals/Letters or Decimal form.
Roman Numeral                           Decimal
I.			                         1.0
A.			                           1.1
B.			                           1.2
1.			                             1.2.1
2.			                             1.2.2
II.	2.0 A. 2.1 B. 2.2 C. 2.3



-is a sentence that makes an assertion about a topic and predicts how the topic will be developed. It does not simply announce a topic: it says something about the topic. NOT: In this paper, I will discuss X. BUT: X has made a significant impact on the teenage population due to its . . .

-makes a promise to the reader about the scope, purpose, and direction of the paper. It summarizes the conclusions that the writer has reached about the topic.

-is generally located near the end of the introduction. Sometimes in a long paper, the thesis will be expressed in several sentences or an entire paragraph.

-is focused and specific enough to be proven within the boundaries of the paper. Key words (nouns and verbs) should be specific, accurate, and indicative of the range of research, thrust of the argument or analysis, and the organization of supporting information.

The following example combines a purpose statement and a thesis statement (all capitals).

The goal of this paper is to examine the effects of Chile's agrarian reform on the lives of rural peasants. The nature of the topic dictates the use of both a chronological and a comparative analysis of peasant lives at various points during the reform period. . . THE CHILEAN REFORM EXAMPLE PROVIDES EVIDENCE THAT LAND DISTRIBUTION IS AN ESSENTIAL COMPONENT OF BOTH THE IMPROVEMENT OF PEASANT CONDITIONS AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY. MORE EXTENSIVE AND ENDURING REFORMS WOULD LIKELY HAVE ALLOWED CHILE THE OPPORTUNITY TO FURTHER EXPAND THESE HORIZONS.


-announces the purpose, scope, and direction of the paper. It tells the reader what to expect in a paper and what the specific focus will be. "This paper examines . . .," "The aim of this paper is to . . .," and "The purpose of this essay is to . . ." are common beginnings. -makes a promise to the reader about the development of the argument but does not preview the particular conclusions that the writer has drawn. -usually appears toward the end of the introduction. The purpose statement may be expressed in several sentences or even an entire paragraph. -is specific enough to satisfy the requirements of the assignment. Purpose statements are common in research papers in some academic disciplines, while in other disciplines they are considered too blunt or direct. This paper will examine the ecological destruction of the Sahel preceding the drought and the causes of this disintegration of the land. The focus will be on the economic, political, and social relationships which brought about the environmental problems in the Sahel.