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Patterns of Organization

When writing, students might find it difficult to organize the sections or paragraphs of their written assignment. Depending on the particular topic, there are a variety of ways in which writers can organize their work. There is no right way to organize writing; rather, it involves careful consideration of what structure would make the most sense for the topic. It is also important to think about how the reader would best understand the message you are trying to convey.

Therefore, there are several organizational patterns to know in order to find the one that best fits the written work.


A chronological pattern organizes information according to the sequence of time. Each section or paragraph represents a certain moment in time and the sub-points can explain the important events that occurred within that moment. This pattern is especially beneficial when writing a historical essay or a biography.


A sequential or process pattern arranges the ideas in a step-by-step process. Each sentence or section represents a different step. This is beneficial when giving instructions or explaining the steps taken to conduct an experiment.


When it is necessary to articulate how things fit together, a spatial pattern of organization would help. This pattern will help the reader to visualize how something appears physically; for example, it would be beneficial to use this pattern to describe a physical space.


Sometimes, if you are writing about a particular problem, you might find that your argument is pointing out the particular root causes of that problem. You might even be identifying the effects. If this is what you find, then the pattern of organization to use would be cause-effect. There are two main ways to structure this kind of pattern. You can have two main sections identifying all of the causes in one section and all of the effects in the other. Alternatively, you could separate each section or paragraph by the cause and its subsequent effect.


Much like the cause-effect pattern, the problem-solution pattern describes a problem and its solution(s). Commonly used in persuasive writing, this pattern can convince the reader to form an opinion on a particular problem and take action towards the solution(s). This pattern can be organized with two main sections identifying all of the problems in one section and all of the solutions in the other. On the other hand, it could have one section or paragraph designated for each problem and its subsequent solution(s).

Compare and Contrast

When you are comparing-contrasting two or more items or ideas, this pattern will obviously work the best. You can separate each item and describe each in detail, leaving the reader to identify the similarities and/or differences. Alternatively, you can separate each section/paragraph by each similarity and/or difference you identify. If you choose the latter, all items should be discussed under each particular similarity or difference.

For additional help on writing compare-contrast papers, download the Compare-Contrast Paper tip sheet.


When illuminating the advantages and disadvantages of two or more things, this pattern of organization will help the reader to understand both sides of an issue. There are a variety of ways to organize this pattern; however, the most effective would be to separate the advantages from the disadvantages.


Most of the time, when writing does not fit into the above-mentioned categories, it requires a topical organizational pattern. With this pattern, writers arrange the sections or paragraphs according to different topics, keeping in mind what would make the most sense to the reader. If you remember these patterns during the planning stages of your writing, your decision about how to structure your written assignment should become easier.