Saturday, September 17, 2005

Organizing by Genre

Saturday Writer: Prewriting Part II

We speak in a variety of genres throughout the day. We relate a personal narrative. We show someone how-to do something. We try to persuade a friend to join us for a meal and a concert. There is little that we communicate in writing that we don’t already do verbally. The difference is that in writing, our audience usually can’t stop us to ask questions if they don’t understand what we’re saying. So being organized about how we present information becomes a critical responsibility.

The second part of prewriting is making a writing plan. How the work is organized and the organizational tools a writer uses is a factor of two things: the genre—kind of writing, the purpose for writing—and the preference of the writer. During this part of the process most writers are already thinking about how the piece will start and where it will go. A powerful lead and a strong conclusion often guide the planning stage.

Personally, I need to have some idea of those two points to determine how to order the material in between. I never actually try to write the lead or the conclusion then—I want to keep them fresh and relevant—but I do note what ideas I have. When I’m writing, ideas are slippery. I want them close by when I need them.

Whether your process already includes a technique below, sticks with the traditional outline, or uses a technique of your own invention. You might might try one of these ideas when working in a genre that’s new or uncomfortable to you.

Personal Narratives and narratives are always in chrononlogical order, though flashbacks in longer narratives are popular. If the narrative is complicated or someone else’s story, drawing a timeline might help you keep the facts in order.

How-to articles need to be done in sequential order—the order the project will take. If you can writer your article as a numbered list. If you need to write in paragraph form, use the numbered list as the sub-heads for your article. Making the list before you start writing can help ensure that you’ve not left out critical information. Check the list, like Santa Claus, to determine whether you need other support such as sidebars or diagrams to help out the reader. At the end tell readers the benefits of following your directions—how much nicer a life they will now lead.

Descriptions can be organized by sensory details, that is by literally describing by one sense at a time. I find that works better for gathering imformation than sharing it. Most descriptions follow spatial organization such as far-to-near, top-to-bottom, or left- to right to help readers get a vivid picture of the scene in their minds.

Persuasive writing introduces the position statement, presents reasons to support it, then concludes by restating the position and calling the audience to act to show their agreement.

Exposititory writing, which includes journalism, informational essays, and self-help, is organized in so many ways. Use the journalistic questions who, what when where, why, and how whenever they are appropriate. Most expository writing is organized around three big implicit questions: Why would the reader want to read this? What information are you sharing? How will this information benefit the reader now that he or she has read it?

Creative Writing and Research Reports actually are made of pieces of the above.

Most writers use these techniques, often planning short pieces mentally while gathering their tools. It’s like preparing to go somewhere. You don’t need elaborate directions if you already know where you're going.
—me strauss Letting me be


Bluesky_Liz said...

This is helpful to me. I can be rather disorganised. I usually go with narrative, but I guess I should try other ways of stretching out ideas.

ME Strauss said...

Thank you Liz,

Narratives are my favorite too. I think it's because my dad used them so often to teach things to me.

How-to is not hard, we do that all of the time. So it tends to come more easily.


dog1net said...

Well written presentation. You make a good point when you say, "There is little that we communicate in writing that we don't already do verbally." Listening is another means by which we become perceptive to structure. By structure, I mean the use of craft or technique, as you point out in organizing and planning, but more importantly, being attentive to sentencing, rhythm, metrics, sonics, metaphore, irony, symbolism, and so forth. It is this part of the process that we really need to think, as you say, "about how the piece will start and where it will go."

ME Strauss said...

Well said Scot.
Your point about listening is so important. When I read around the web, I hear so many things that jar in my head. The music of the language is missing. There's something to be said to reading your own work aloud until you can hear it inside your head.

Thanks for pulling that out of what was said.


fineartist said...

Dear Liz,
I would like to show this piece to a few of my colleagues, and some of my students. I believe that it will be helpful, even precious to them. Of course I will credit you. Do you mind? Lori

ME Strauss said...


Do I mind? I'd be upset if there was a way that I could help you and you didn't ask.

Please do. Tell them to feel free to check in with me if they have any questions etc. You can share the series. . . or make them read the blog? he=he. It's an every Saturday series.


fineartist said...

Thank you Liz. We, my colleagues and I, are working diligently to improve the quality of our students education, and we have found that our particular students do not spend enough time writing. Somehow we have managed to neglect this area of their education. I know that this series will help them, and I feel as if I have been given a gift, from you, to me and to them.

I apologize for my shameless outpouring of admiration. Sometimes I make myself ill with it, but I have never been one to not say what it is that I am feeling, even at the risk of sounding like a complete suck up, because what I say, if I say it is sincere.

ME Strauss said...

I used to work with students via email. I think they're really cool. And you're not a suck up, believe me. Rememeber I'm the one who wrote the definition of Needy Pink.

Happy to share I'm a teacher after all.

If you find a way to use the blog in the classroom, let me know--I'll set up the room next door where I keep the files and photo credits.