Definition and Examples of Climactic Order in Composition and Speech

climactic order: Train winds through mountain landscape
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In composition and speech, climactic order is the arrangement of details or ideas in order of increasing importance or force: the principle of saving the best for last.

The organizational strategy of climactic order (also called ascending order or increasing importance pattern) may be applied to a sequence of words, sentences, or paragraphs. The opposite of climactic order is anticlimactic (or descending) order.

Climactic Order (and Anticlimax) in Sentences

  • Auxesis and Tricolon offer examples of climactic order within individual sentences.
  • "Can suspense be . . . created in individual sentences? Of course. What do we mean by climactic order and anticlimax? We mean simply that we are playing a game with the reader; if we play it in a serious way, we create in him a desire to go on; but when we are in a humorous mood, he will not mind if we cheat his expectation. To say, 'Two, four, six--' is to create an expectancy that 'eight' will follow; to say 'Two, four, six, three,' is to cheat the expectancy--and, if it is done suddenly, it will make the reader smile." (Frederick M. Salter, The Art of Writing. Ryerson Press, 1971)

Climactic Order in Paragraphs

  • An appeal to logic might be arranged in climactic order, beginning with a general statement, presenting specific details in order of increasing importance, and ending with a dramatic statement, a climax. Here Patrick is using scientific predictions to arouse and alarm a general, nonscientific audience: Consider the potential effect of just a small increase in the earth's atmospheric temperature. A rise of only a few degrees could melt the polar ice caps. Rainfall patterns would change. Some deserts might bloom, but lands now fertile might turn to desert, and many hot climates could become uninhabitable. If the sea level rose only a few feet, dozens of coastal cities would be destroyed, and life as we know it would be changed utterly. (Toby Fulwiler and Alan Hayakawa, The Blair Handbook. Prentice Hall, 2003)
  • For an example of climactic order combined with chronological order in a paragraph, see Subordination in Bernard Malamud's A New Life.
  • "Climactic ordering is particularly useful within a single paragraph when your idea is too complex to present all at once. In that case, you need to introduce an aspect of that idea and then develop it as you go along, saving your most important point until the very end of the paragraph.
    "What is true for paragraphs is true for entire essays. An effective argumentative essay will almost always present the least important evidence first and the most important last, becoming more convincing and emphatic as it moves along." (Robert DiYanni and Pat C. Hoy II, The Scribner Handbook for Writers, 3rd ed. Allyn and Bacon, 2001)

Climactic Order of Body Paragraphs in an Essay

  • "[The] principle of climactic order is worth a writer's attention when the time comes to arrange paragraphs of an essay. The introduction and conclusion, of course, are easy to set in order; one is first, the other last. But the arrangement of the paragraphs of the body sometimes offers various possibilities. Use this rule of thumb: Unless logic dictates some other order, arrange your essay's body paragraphs in climactic order; save the best, most vivid, most interesting, or most emphatic point for last. In narrative or process analysis, for example, logical sequence overrules this guideline; but elsewhere writers usually use it to keep papers from trickling away into insignificance . . .." (Peder Jones and Jay Farness, College Writing Skills, 5th ed. Collegiate Press, 2002)
  • The student essay Learning to Hate Mathematics is an example of climactic order combined with chronological order.
  • "The Penalty of Death" by H.L. Mencken is an example of climactic order in an argumentative essay.
  • For an example of climactic order in a student's argumentative essay, see "Time for an Anthem the Country Can Sing."

Climactic Order in Agendas for Meetings and Presentations

  • "Generally, an agenda should follow a climactic order. Take care of routine reports, announcements, or introductions early and lead up to the major speaker, presentation, or discussion." (Jo Sprague, Douglas Stuart, and David Bodary, The Speaker's Handbook, 9th ed. Wadsworth, 2010)

Climactic Order in Legal Writing

  • "Climactic order frequently corresponds with chronological order, but perhaps from a different impetus. The traditional goal of climactic order is to surprise, to startle. In contrast, its use in legal writing ensures that the reader has a complete history in hand to help explain the current court interpretation and the writer's summary of it." (Terri LeClercq, Expert Legal Writing. University of Texas Press, 1995)
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Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Climactic Order in Composition and Speech." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). Definition and Examples of Climactic Order in Composition and Speech. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Definition and Examples of Climactic Order in Composition and Speech." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).