Spatial Order in Composition

Dilapidated shed in a grassy field
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In composition, spatial order is an organizational structure in which details are presented as they are (or were) located in space—from left to right, top to bottom, etc. Also known as order of place or space structure, spatial order describes things as they appear when observed. In descriptions of places and objects, spatial order determines the perspective from which readers observe details.

David S. Hogsette points out in Writing That Makes Sense: Critical Thinking in College Composition that "technical writers may use spatial order to explain how a mechanism works; architects use spatial order to describe a building design; [and] food critics reviewing a new restaurant use spatial order to describe and evaluate the dining area," (Hogsette 2009).

As opposed to chronological order or other methods for data organization, spatial order ignores time and focuses primarily on location (or space, which makes this term easy to remember).

Transitions for Spatial Order

A spatial order comes with a set of transitive words and phrases that help writers and speakers navigate a spatially ordered paragraph and distinguish its parts. These include above, alongside, behind, beneath, beyond down, farther along, in back, in front, near or nearby, on top of, to the left or right of, under and up, and more.

Just as the words first, next and finally function in a chronological organization, these spatial transitions help guide a reader spatially through a paragraph, especially those used to describe scene and setting in prose and poetry. 

For instance, one might start by describing a field as a whole but then focus in on individual details as they relate to one another in the setting. "The well is next to the apple tree, which is behind the barn," or, "Further down the field is a stream, beyond which lies another lush meadow with three cows grazing near a perimeter fence."

Appropriate Use of Spatial Order

The best place to use spatial organization is in descriptions of scene and setting, but it can also be utilized when giving instructions or directions. In any case, the logical progression of one thing as it relates to another in a scene or setting provides an advantage to using this type of organization.

However, this also provides the disadvantage of making all items described within a scene carry the same intrinsic weight or importance. By using spatial order to organize a description, it becomes hard for the writer to ascribe more importance to, say, a dilapidated farmhouse in a full detailing of a farm scene.

As a result, using spatial order to organize all descriptions is not advised because sometimes it is important for the writer to only point out the most important details of a scene or setting, giving emphasis to things like the bullet hole in a glass window on the front of a house instead of describing every detail of the scene in order to convey the idea that the home is not in a safe neighborhood.

Writers should, therefore, determine their intention when setting a scene or occurrence before deciding which organization method to use for it. Although the use of spatial order is quite common with scene descriptions, sometimes chronological or even just stream-of-consciousness is a better method of organization to convey a certain point.

Source

Hogsette, David. Writing That Makes Sense: Critical Thinking in College Composition. Resource Publications, 2009.