Organizational Patterns in Academic Writing

How is academic writing organized?

The purpose of academic writing is to present a number of ideas that somehow fit together to make sense. Professors, textbook authors, and researchers often use frameworks that help to communicate their ideas clearly. There are several types of framework, called organizational patterns, that can be identified in academic writing. They help the author to organize their ideas in a way that makes sense, and hopefully, they help the reader to understand the material being presented. Organizational patterns can be identified by what transitions or “signal words” the author uses.

Organizational Pattern Purpose Signal Words
Definition Explains the meaning of new words or phrases. is, refers to, can be defined as, means, consists of, involves, is a term that, is called, is characterized by, occurs when, are those that, entails, corresponds to, is literally
Classification Divides a topic into parts based on shared characteristics. classified as, comprises, is composed of, several varieties of, different stages of, different groups that, includes, one, first, second, another, finally, last
Chronological Order Describes the sequence in which events occur in time. first, second, later, before, next, as soon as, after, then, finally, meanwhile, following, last, during, in, on, until
Process Describes the order in which things are done or how things work. first, second, next, then, following, after that, last, finally
Order of Importance Describes ideas in order of priority or preference. less, more, primary, next, last, most important, primarily, secondarily
Cause and Effect Describes how one or more things cause or are related to another. Causes: because, because of, for, since, stems from, one cause is, one reason is, leads to, causes, creates, yields, produces, due to, breeds, for this reason

Effects: consequently, results in, as a result, therefore, thus,

Comparison and Contrast Discusses similarities and/or differences among ideas, theories, concepts, objects, or persons. Similarities: both, also, similarly, like, likewise, too, as well as, resembles, correspondingly, in the same way, to compare, in comparison, share Differences: unlike, differs from, in contrast, on the other hand, instead, despite, nevertheless, however, in spite of, whereas, as opposed to
Listing Organizes lists of information: characteristics, features, parts, or categories. the following, several, for example, for instance, one, another, also, too, in other words, first second, numerals (1, 2, 3…), letters (a, b, c…), most important, the largest, the least, finally
Statement and Clarification Indicates that information explaining a concept or idea will follow. in fact, in other words, clearly, evidently, obviously
Summary Indicates that a condensed review of an idea or piece of writing is to follow. in summary, in conclusion, in brief, to summarize, to sum up, in short, on the whole
Generalization and Example Provides examples that clarify a broad, general statement. for example, for instance, that is, to illustrate, thus
Addition Indicates that additional information will follow. furthermore, additionally, also, besides, further, in addition, moreover, again

Adapted from McWhorter, Kathleen T. Reading Across the Disciplines. 2nd Ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2005

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