Organizational Patterns for Expository Writing

Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

Writing or reading an expository piece? Knowing how the piece is organized is essential for clear comprehension. This lesson describes and explains when to use different organizational patterns.

Expository Writing

Essays, newspaper articles, academic journals, encyclopedias. These are just a few examples of expository writing, or writing used to convey information or explain a concept. To help readers understand expository writing, writers use some common organizational patterns to structure their writing. The choice of organizational pattern depends on the information and the writer's purpose.

Organizational Patterns

Since expository writing can cover a wide variety of topics, identifying and selecting the organizational pattern is vital. As a reader, recognizing the pattern will promote comprehension. As the writer, choosing the pattern that best fits the information and your goal will foster clear communication. The rest of this lesson describes several of the main organizational patterns for expository writing and the situations in which it is best to use them.

Cause and Effect

The first pattern is cause and effect, which is used to describe one or more causes paired with the corresponding effect(s). A cause is any action or event that gives rise to something else. The effect is the resulting consequence of that event. This pattern is best for topics or goals focused on emphasizing certain actions and the results of those actions.

To effectively use the cause-and-effect pattern, you need results that can be traced back to very specific events or actions. If you do not have either of those components, choose a different organizational pattern.

Let's look at an example of a topic that fits well with this pattern. Imagine your history teacher has assigned an essay on Mussolini's role in World War II. Throughout this war, Mussolini took actions that had specific results or reactions from other countries. In fact, the topic of war in general has many causes with specific effects. This topic fits into a cause-and-effect pattern very well.


The next pattern is sequence, which is structured in chronological order, or in order of time. This pattern can be used in for many different situations and topics. Think about it, doesn't everything in life occur in order of time?

For instance, let's return to the topic of WWII. This worldwide event can be written about very clearly in order of time, starting with the instigation of war leading all the way to how the war ended.

Can you use sequence for other topics? Yes, of course! Imagine you are writing a research paper on the medical uses of stem cells. To write in chronological order, begin by describing the discovery of stem cells. Then trace the development of the research through time, ending with current details on the issue.

Almost any topic can fit into this pattern of writing. Any time you are struggling to choose a pattern, try order of sequence.

Order of Importance

Order of importance is the next pattern, which focuses on the most important idea first. The second most important idea comes next, and so on until you end with the least important idea.

Like sequence, this pattern is also very versatile. You can use it any time you are writing a persuasive piece, which means you are making an argument or trying to convince your reader to believe or perform a certain action.

Why does order of importance work well for persuasion? Mostly because your first point will make the strongest impression. Imagine you are reading a piece arguing that the United States should accept refugees from Syria. The writer is trying to convince you to agree. Logically, the writer will start with the strongest argument. Then other, less important arguments are described, which serve to strengthen the case. This is a very effective strategy to persuade.

Compare and Contrast

Our next pattern is compare and contrast, which describes the similarities and differences between two or more ideas or concepts. For obvious reasons, you want to choose this pattern only when you have more than one central idea or concept.

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