Understanding Organization In Composition and Speech

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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In composition and speech, organization is the arrangement of ideas, incidents, evidence, or details in a perceptible order in a paragraphessay, or speech. Also known as arrangement.

In classical rhetoric, organization was known as arrangement or dispositio (defined by Aristotle in Metaphysics as "the order of that which has parts, either according to place or potentia or form"). 

See the observations below.


From the Latin, "tool, instrument"


  • "Although paragraphs (and indeed whole essays) may be patterned in any number of ways, certain patterns of organization occur frequently, either alone or in combination: examples and illustration, narration, description, process, comparison and contrast, analogy, cause and effect, classification and division, and definition. There is nothing particularly magical about these patterns (sometimes called methods of development). They simply reflect some of the ways in which we think."
  • The Basic Principle of Organization
    "[T]he great basic principle of organization: put everything on the same subject in the same place. I remember when an editor, Ralph Ingersoll I think, casually explained this trick of the trade to me, that my first reaction was 'obviously,' my second 'but why didn't it ever occur to me?' and my third that it was one of those profound banalities 'everybody knows's after they've been told."
  • Organizing Paragraphs
    "Paragraphs range from tightly structured to loosely structured. Any scheme will do as long as the paragraph seems to hold together. Many paragraphs begin with a topic sentence or generalization, followed by a clarifying or limiting statement and one or more sentences of explanation or development. Some conclude with a resolution statement. Others delay the topic sentence until the end. Others have no topic sentence at all. Each paragraph should be designed to achieve its particular purpose."
  • Organization in Classical Rhetoric
    "Ancient attitudes toward arrangement were very different from modern ones. In modern thought, the proper arrangement of a piece of discourse is often dictated by genre: there are formulas for arranging business letters, papers written in school, scientific reports, and even romance novels..."
  • The Lighter Side of Organization
    "The first act is getting the cat up the tree, the second act is throwing rocks at the cat, the third act is getting the cat down from the tree.”




Diana Hacker, The Bedford Handbook, 6th ed. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2002

Dwight Macdonald, review of Luce and His Empire in The New York Times Book Review, 1972. Rpt. in Discriminations: Essays and Afterthoughts, 1938-1974, by Dwight Macdonald. Viking Press, 1974

Stephen Wilbers, Keys to Great Writing. Writer's Digest Books, 2000

Sharon Crowlee and Debra Hawhee, Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students, 3rd ed. Pearson, 2004

Alison Merkel, quoted by Larissa MacFarquhar, "Master Class." The New Yorker, June 23, 2014