OASIS: Structure/ Overall Organization

Structure/ Overall Organization of the content in your paper 

write 5Is your paper organized to communicate your topic most effectively? You should aim to have high quality structure/ overall organization: your paper must be organized according to the purposes you have for writing. Structure/ overall organization means arranging the ideas and topics in your paper in a way that is clear, informative, and interesting for your audience. If you are arguing about a topic,  giving information, or explaining an idea (called expository writing), you must begin and end your paper with one main point, idea, or theme—and support the main point with reasons, details, and examples. That is, your sentences and paragraphs should have some kind of direction, or progression of ideas. If you are telling a story or describing an event that happened (called narrative writing), you must begin and end your paper with an action sequence of 1st event, 2nd event, and so on. But narratives should also have a main point, too; that is, you must tell your readers why the story is significant or what topic or issue the story is an example of. Therefore, expository writing drives ideas forward to support one main idea or point, and narrative writing drives a connected sequence of actions forward to highlight or illustrate a larger point, topic, or issue. The best kind of expository writing contains little narrative snapshots within it, in order to highlight or illustrate the ideas or main idea. And the best kind of narrative writing inserts expository sections within the action structure, to make generalized, impersonal statements about the world or state of affairs described in the story. Good writers mix forms of narrative and expository together to accomplish their discourse purposes, just as an artist combines different colors to create a masterpiece. Practice mixing narrative and expository elements so that you can achieve linguistic flexibility and discourse effectiveness: your audience will appreciate it!

Four levels of structure/ overall organization

There are four levels of structure/ overall organization that can help you determine how you can improve your written discourse.

Level 1) Your paper is either expository or narrative only, with no mixing of these text types. Your expository essay only uses simple present or generic future verb tense, and your ideas are general, often unsupported by reasons, details, and examples. Your narrative essay is only a step-by-step list of the actions/events that happened in the story.

Example: I think high school uniforms are good ideas. You can match with everyone around you. If you choose your own clothes, you are worried about how you look. When you follow a dress code, you know that you are wearing the right thing. You should always be respectful of the school rules. If you do not respect the rules, then you will always be in trouble. That is why I think uniforms are a good idea in school.

Level 2) Your paper starts to include a few examples, reasons, and details to support your ideas. Your expository essay contains ideas that you consider “normal” or “socially acceptable,” rather than your own opinions. You include causes of and solutions to different problems and issues. In your narrative writing, you begin to link generalized statements about the states of affairs of the actions/events you tell.

Example: Many schools require uniforms. Students respond to this kind of dress code in different ways. Some students get really upset about the rule. Those are students who think that wearing school uniforms takes away from their own styles. The world has many rules that people do not like, but sometimes rules are good. Sometimes people complain about rules for a while, but then they get used to them. A school dress code is not such a bad rule. There are many kinds of people in a school and many kinds of problems. If students can get used to wearing school uniforms, they can focus their attention on other problems.

Level 3) Your writing shows some combination of narrative-like and expository-like features. Your expository paper shows a main idea or point being elaborated and described by details and reasons; sometimes, you support your main point with specific events, past actions, or concrete (real) states of affairs, but not consistently. Also, there are very few or no meta-discourse markers to guide the reader. Your paragraphs are clearly organized and you make a clear connection between the ideas in the opening paragraph (introduction) and the closing paragraph (conclusion). Your narratives look the same as they did in level 2, but you begin to add evaluative, judgmental comments about the events or states of affairs in your action/event structure.

Example: School uniform policies are controversial issues, particularly in High Schools, although they are generally a good idea. High School students experience a lot of new tension in a new environment. Students who lived comfortably close to their parents and middle school teachers are suddenly thrust into complicated social situations. There are new people, new behaviors, and new school subjects. Instead of getting caught up in the effort to form or be part of groups and cliques, students should just focus on doing well in school. Otherwise, students can get mixed up in focusing on others’ appearances, resulting in jealousy, distraction, and factions. A High School uniform policy is not an altogether bad idea because it prepares students for the even more complex real world.

Level 4) This is the most advanced level of structure/ overall organization, where your paper is a creative synthesis (combination) of narrative and expository parts into a unified whole, which has a clear main point. You also include meta-commentary about your own writing, within the essay, to guide your readers through it. Meta-discourse markers and other kinds of discourse markers frequently appear. Your narratives contain more generalized ideas, and a lesser amount of isolated actions. Your discourse position often shifts between personal and impersonal, but you clearly mark any shift you make (see part 3). Also, you begin to not only include your own opinions, but also analytical, creative, and critical thinking.

Example: Some feel that schools should not require uniforms because it interferes with students’ self-expression. On the other hand, some think it is a good idea to enforce a school dress code, citing the many kinds of problems that result from students abusing their freedom of dress: gang activity, promiscuity, and the ability to hide contraband. Whichever position one takes on this issue, it is important to recognize that it is a complex issue involving many factors. A school uniform policy, however, seems more like good idea than a bad one, when all the factors are weighed.

For example, a national poll of high schools reported less student-related problems in those schools that required students to wear uniforms. This may or may not be related to the issue at hand, but it is a striking fact. One does notice, nevertheless, improved student behavior in schools with strict dress codes. I witnessed such a contrast when I transferred from my old high school which had a strict dress code to my new high school which had none. I felt as if I were in a zoo. Even the littlest things, like walking in the hallway between classes, seemed more chaotic.

It seems, then, that having a dress code would do less damage than it would benefit students. Some still hold that self-expression is the most important thing, and they may be right. In safer school districts, where student-related problems are not common, a dress code might not be necessary. But, generally, school uniform policies are in place to protect students, and it seems they can do no harm. I certainly would rather be safe in school than have freedom of dress in school.

In the final example, level 4, the writer makes a relation between the first and last paragraph. The writer uses the opinion of “some”—some general naysayer—to contrast to his/her ideas. This is an effective way to make your paper sound like a real argument. Also, there is a short narrative section in the second paragraph, and the transition into and out of it is smooth, marked with discourse markers (see part 2). This is the kind of structure/ overall organization you should aim for in your writing.

A Recap: Imagining the situation and speaking into it

Now that you know these five parts of well-formed writing, the rest is up to you: use your imagination to create, see, and feel a writing situation that “calls out” your writing. Remember: if you are ever stuck, turn away from your page, close your eyes, and speak aloud, into your imagined situation, considering your audience, and speaker-voice; then, turn back to your page and write what your audience needs to hear. This guide used the OASIS acronym to sum up five parts that are tools for you to write well-formed discourse. However, this guide cannot do anything unless you use your imagination and voice to use the five OASIS parts. You have an imagination and a speaking voice. Now is the time to use them.