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 logical 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.

When the points need to be explained in a particular order to logically move from one to the next to make sense, organizing according to that logical progression will lend your paper clarity and credibility. For example, if you have to write a problem/solution essay, it is helpful to first learn about the problem (causes, scope, consequences) before outlining a solution (implementation, feasibility, gains). Below are some organizational structures that are commonly used like cause and effect, compare and contrast, problem/solution, and process.

Cause and Effect

Some topics require you to write about how a particular issue came about and the results that came about. In this case, a cause and effect structure would clearly demonstrate the underlying causes of an event and the resulting effects. This structure can be reversed (discuss the effects before outlying the causes), but in many academic contexts, the cause-effect structure will be more common as demonstrated below.

English is today the number one spoken language in the world. It is not an easy language to learn, and its rules are flexible and full of contradictions. An easier language that has set rules should logically be the most popular. However, the reason English became the dominant global language has a lot to do with the Norman Conquest and the black plague. (INTRODUCTION)

The Norman Conquest in 1066 replaced England’s native ruling class with a ruling class from France. The French language could have gone on to become the dominate language if the black plague hadn’t struck across Europe. The black plague primarily affected the poor, working class citizens. As the servants to the rich and famous started dying off, it became essential for the ruling class to learn at least some English to provide for themselves. (CAUSE PARAGRAPH)

The English speaking merchants as a result, grew in importance and English really began to take hold in England. Since England became such a global power, English was a language that people learned in order to better communicate with a potentially powerful ally. If it weren’t for the black plague or even the Norman Conquest, the dominate language of the world would probably be another language all together. (EFFECT PARAGRAPH)

Baugh, A.C. & Cable, T. (2002). A history of the English language. New York: Pearson Education.

Compare and Contrast

Writing a compare and contrast essay has two main components: comparing points out similarities between two items whereas contrasting highlights the differences. While there may be some overlap between the paragraphs, these papers can be organized by traits, topic, or by separating the comparisons from the contrasts as illustrated below.

When I was a kid, nothing could beat Kraft macaroni and cheese. I loved the butter/fake cheese combination. As I grew older and more concerned about money, I started purchasing the “bendy noodle” and spiral varieties instead of my favorite Sponge-Bob or Scooby Doo shapes. At first glance, the two boxes seemed pretty much the same—although the shape was different, the boxes were still the same size, the cheese was still that fake, bright orange color, and the process was almost identical—boil the noodles, drain, add milk and butter, mix in cheese, and enjoy. For all intents and purposes, I felt like I was buying the same exact box of macaroni when I reached the checkout counter. (COMPARE PARAGRAPH)

However, when I arrived home, I began to uncover differences between the macaroni shape and my beloved character macaroni. Though most people would be thrilled to find out their cheaper noodles cooked faster than the character kind, I found myself disappointed. I had my process down to a science, and I felt more rushed than usual as my noodles cooked. When it came time to eat the macaroni, I found that eating elbow shaped macaroni just didn’t taste the same. The texture was all wrong; the elbow noodles seemed mushier and somehow less cheesy than the character kind. The characters with their porous faces seemed to absorb the cheese whereas the elbow shaped macaroni repelled the cheese. I have since decided paying the extra fifty cents was entirely worth it even if it doesn’t look very adult. (CONTRAST PARAGRAPH)


As explained above, problem solution essays generally start with an illustration of the problem before a solution can be described. Often, these paragraphs will be organized by topics and subtopics within your argument.

Sexual assault on college campuses remains a major issue that advocates and students alike seek to address. Sexual assault is present on every college campus with varying degrees of prominence. Although many blame the use of alcohol and on-campus parties, the root cause of sexual assault lies in a lack of education. While campuses should certainly educate students on how to physically deter and escape one of these situations and should look at policies that protect their students during the reporting process, the ideal solution would prevent potential assaulters from attempting assault in the first place. (PROBLEM PARAGRAPH)

Universities should take more precautions to ensure their students are mentally equipped with knowledge about sexual assault through a required general education course. The course should educate all students about rape culture so they can become more aware of the issue and so that they can critically think about and grapple with these issues. Although this class would certainly cost universities, this course could be adapted to fit within or as freshman seminar courses to save money, which would make this a more feasible solution. The financial costs, however, would be entirely worth it since these programs would ultimately protect students and save universities time and money that might be otherwise spent in the aftermath of a sexual assault. Not only would students be completing coursework for their degree, but they would gain knowledge that could potentially help them protect and even save their lives. (SOLUTION PARAGRAPH)


Some topics are demonstrational, meaning you are writing about something that has steps that need to be followed in a particular order to be successful. If you’re writing about how to bake a cake, or how to apply for a passport, or even how to succeed in business without really trying, a process-oriented organization style that describes the process in order is the most appropriate choice.

Many people who walk into our bakery are often impressed by our handmade and hand-dipped butter cookies. Although the process of dipping cookies is admittedly not very difficult, there must be a system so the cookies are decorated in a consistent pattern. Before the dipping process even begins, the bakers make roughly two hundred pans of butter cookies. They start their work at two in the morning every Sunday night to ensure that the cookies cool enough for the dippers to work with and so that the cookies are available for the customer to purchase by the afternoon. (STEP ONE)

The cookies are very delicate, and the dippers must be aware of how tightly they hold onto the cookie; too tightly and the cookie will crumble between their fingers, too lightly and the cookie will slip through their grip as they drag the cookie across the chocolate. That’s another interesting thing about dipping cookies: there isn’t actually any dipping motion involved. The cookie has to be dragged across the surface of the melted chocolate, otherwise one half of the cookie becomes too heavy, and the cookies will split in half. (STEP TWO)

Once the cookie is dragged from one edge of the chocolate dish to the other, the dipper must then gently flip the cookie so that the dipped side is facing upward. This will allow the chocolate dipped portion to appear smooth and finished. The cookies must then be placed on a wax lined pan, and then set into the freezer for about fifteen minutes. This allows the chocolate shell to harden quickly so that the cookies can be put on display in the storefront. (STEP THREE)

With twenty-five different varieties of cookies, each with their own special process of dipping and arrangement, the process of creating enough butter cookies to last us one week at the bakery can take several hours. However, it is well worth the effort to see the customers’ smiling faces as they bite into a cookie for the first time. (CONCLUSION)