Hierarchical

One important aspect that is often overlooked in the writing process is the structure and order that ideas will appear in the paper. Depending on what you will be writing, there are different organizational structures that may strengthen or weaken your writing based on which you select. This handout is designed to give more information on hierarchical organization patterns, but you can find more information about other organization patterns from our General Organizational Strategies Guide, which will direct you to other handouts that will address other categories of organization patterns.

Some topics don’t have a linear, logical, Point A to Point B organization at hand to use for your paper. In those cases, you can organize your body paragraphs according to value. You can follow this organization style in two ways: low to high or high to low. The “low to high” order is the most often commonly used order in academic contexts, especially in the humanities, as analysis and synthesis are key forms of writing strong arguments.

Low to High

In this structure, body paragraph topics are ranked from lowest priority/value to highest priority/value. This option is often preferred because you can then build your points on each other, and end on a high note with impact, to more thoroughly convince your reader of your argument. Examples would include writing about criteria through which you are evaluating something (review of a movie or restaurant, analysis of a scene from a movie or play, argument on topics from a book, etc.). Below is an example from a personal teaching statement.

When I first discovered my passion for teaching, I was in Ethiopia sitting on dry grass, using clip boards as desks and donated pencils to write. The kids were of all different ages, coming voluntarily to learn English twice a day, five times a week. Our team divided the kids into small groups to better address students’ learning levels. Each student had something special to bring, whether it was a positive attitude, a curious hunger for more words, or someone who was brave enough to voice the questions everyone else was wondering, but was too shy to ask.

My first experience showed me that a classroom should function similarly to a community. While the teacher is there to provide instruction and direction, every student can help create a better learning environment for everyone. Even students who may act out or misbehave have something positive to contribute, and a teacher’s job is to lead students to a better understanding of themselves and a new subject.

To help expose students to a new experience and to new ideas, I believe having an open classroom where students and instructors can learn from each other is one of the best ways to promote learning in a classroom. As teachers, we should be a role model for our students; if the teacher is not willing to learn from her students, then the students will not be as willing to learn.

Notice the first paragraph opens with a scene. Although it is descriptive, in comparison to the other paragraphs, it is not as important since it does not explain the purpose. The second paragraph starts to connect the description to the author’s views on teaching and what they got from the described experience. It is more valuable since it serves as a connection between the first and last paragraphs. The final paragraph describes the heart of the author’s purpose and philosophy. It is easier to understand the author’s perspective because of the buildup from the previous paragraphs.

High to Low

Rank your body paragraph topics from highest priority/value to lowest priority/value. This option is useful in some ways, but often can make your writing weaker, because you start with your strongest/most important point and then your points become less impactful or less important as your paper progresses. Examples would include websites that rank items from highest to lowest (pet adoption sites, for example, often list the most appealing features of a pet first).

Out of our newest pups available for adoption, Jack is one of our favorites! Jack is a beautiful 3-year- old lab-beagle mix who came to us after his owner passed away. He loves playing fetch with tennis balls and snuggling next to you on the couch. At the end of the day, he is a gentle love bug who will wiggle into your heart.

His gentle nature makes him a great match in a house with children and other dogs, but he tends to chase other cats. Jack is house broken, walks pleasantly on a leash, and will even run beside you if you are riding a bike! He is still working on “stay” but knows how to sit and lay down. Jack is eager to learn new tricks and would do well with a family who is interested in training him.

Jack is already neutered, updated on his shots, and microchipped. To meet this adorable pup, visit us at the Hub Rescue Organization between 12-4 PM Monday-Friday!

Notice that the first, and most important, paragraph describes the very best features of the dog to make him more marketable to prospective families. The second paragraph describes features that may not be as important and reveals some potential flaws. The first paragraph needs to come first to set a more positive tone to this ad. The final paragraph doesn’t describe Jack in very good detail and presents very dry facts about Jack’s health and adoption hours.