Perhaps the most important feature of any piece of writing is its organization. No matter how well you research your topic or how beautifully you write your sentences, all that work will mean little if your essay isn’t well organized. The reader needs to be able to follow you where you’re taking them. And in order to lead well, you should probably know where you’re going, which means charting your course in advance.
I often tell writers that writer’s block doesn’t have a chance if you have good research and a solid plan for writing. This lesson is about turning all your research into a useful plan for completing a well-ordered essay.
We’ve all come across a bad storyteller—the kind of person who goes on endlessly, and you never get the sense that the story is going anywhere. Or they jump between ideas, failing to connect the ideas in any meaningful way. This is bad, disorganized storytelling, and it’s among the commonest problems with writing, not just in college, but in the professional world as well.
Good writing moves in a logical fashion, flowing from one idea to the next in a manner that makes sense to the reader or audience. In a good story, the reader always knows what’s going on, is invested in the plot, and has a sense of where the story is headed. A good essay has a similar feel, starting with a topic of interest or importance, adding supporting ideas that inform the reader on the main topic, and it leads the reader to a conclusion that makes sense, even if it doesn’t always generate agreement on the reader’s part. Accomplishing all this is one of the most challenging aspects of writing. And failing to accomplish at least most of these things will lead to essays that fail to convince, inform, and in most cases, get high marks.
Once you’ve thoroughly researched your topic, you’re going to have a ton of information. The challenge now is presenting that information in a sensible order. Well organized writing is a question of order.
Because people can only process one word at a time, in a literal sense, your essay will always follow the same order—a straight line—left to right, from the top of the page to the bottom of the page. One way or another, you need to get all the information you’ve gathered into a straight line. The big question is how to turn a collection of seemingly disconnected ideas into a useful plan that, when completed, will be something your audience can recognize and appreciate.
You might be familiar with two common techniques that teachers often show their students to help with this process—the mind map and the outline.