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Organizing Ideas

Clear organized thinking produces clear, logical writing. Some communications problems may be solved by changing words or sentence structure, others involve the way words or thoughts are arranged. The organization of your document is an essential part of conveying your message clearly.

What does your reader most want to know? What is your main message or theme? Decide what information must be included and what can be left out. Then, divide your information into main and secondary points.

Develop a structure for your document that will make it easy and enjoyable to use. For example, chronological order might be the most logical approach for describing procedures.

If people already know something about the subject and you are sharing new information, start with the old, then introduce the new.

If you are describing something completely new, start with general information about the objectives or reasons for the new, then deal with the specifics.

Try including a good table of contents and clear headings throughout the document. In shorter documents, explain how you have organized the information in an "introduction' instead of using a table of contents.

Here are a few ways to organize your information:
  • from general to specific
  • from specific to general
  • from positive to negative
  • step by step
  • from most important to least important

Try this:

Use the following scenario.
You have just come from a staff meeting at which people had a heated discussion about some office management problems. You were asked to write a memo to your supervisor right away, telling her about the problems and asking her to come to a meeting with the group. You had some ideas about how the problem could be solved but the other people at the meeting didn't agree with you. You are worried that your supervisor will feel that your group is ganging up against her and that she will come to the meeting angry. You promised to circulate the note to everyone who attended the meeting.
How will you organize the information in the memo? Who is your "reader" - your supervisor or your co-workers?

How will your reader understand your organization and what the memo's purpose is?

Other resources online:

Writing User-Friendly Documents
(U.S. National Performance Review)

"Organize Your Documents Carefully"
"Use a Question-and-Answer Format"

The Plain Language Center in British Columbia
Organization: Clarity without clutter

Q:My documents always seem to have more than one purpose - to inform, to influence, to get someone to do something and to keep as a record. It's all important. How do I pick which one is most important?

A:Decide how the majority of the audience will use your document. This will dictate its primary purpose. If there are a number of different audiences for a document, and each is large enough, consider creating more than one type of document.