Text Organisation

How to understand and use patterns of text organisation.

All texts have some kind of structure. The structure varies according to the purpose of the text. Some texts are very simple and may have a standard structure or format. For example, a receipt will show the amount of money received, the name of the receiver, the date and any other information legally required to be shown on the receipt, but little else. But the texts we are concerned with are more complex and will vary in different ways depending on their purpose, intended audience, subject matter and so on.

If you are a student of English, you may have been asked to write an essay outlining the advantages and disadvantages of something. Or perhaps causes and effects, or comparison and contrast. But very few real texts consist of only one or two of these patterns. Most real texts (not written purely for academic demonstration of writing ability) are a complex mixture of a variety of patterns of organisation.

Nevertheless, if you want to write well you need to understand how these patterns are used, so we will examine them one by one. Understanding these structures will also help you with your reading. In fact, the key to understanding these structures is to read widely so that you understand how writers use them in real texts.

The following list gives the main patterns of organisation used in English academic and technical writing. They are not easy to classify or place in any order of importance (it depends on the type of text you are writing) and you may find them described in different ways elsewhere.



1. Topic, Main Idea and Supporting Detail

This is a basic pattern in most types of expository and persuasive writing. Most of your paragraphs should follow this pattern in the form of topic sentence and supporting sentences. And in fact the whole text may follow this pattern in the form of a thesis statement (main idea) and your supporting arguments in the main body of your text. For an example of how main idea, supporting detail, and topic sentences are used in a real text see the topic and supporting detail page.

2. Sequence / Enumeration / Process

These are similar patterns where order (first, second, third ...) is important. For an example of how enumeration is used in a real text see the sequence/enumeration page.

3. Comparison and Contrast

This pattern shows how things are similar or different. For an example of how comparison is used in a real text see the comparison and contrast page.

4. Cause and Effect

This pattern shows how one event is causally connected to another. For examples of how cause and effect is used in real texts see the cause and effect page.

5. Problem and Solution

This pattern examines a problem or a series of problems and suggests solutions.
For an example of how problem/solution is used in a real text see the problem/solution page.

6. Advantages and Disadvantages

This pattern examines (obviously) the advantages and disadvantages of a particular artifact, process or event. For an example of how advantages and disadvantages are used in a real text see the advantages and disadvantages page.

7. Classification / Hierarchy

For an example of how classification is used in a real text see the classification page.

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