Chapter 10 Lecture:
Six Methods for Organizing Data
Ideas expressed in paragraphs, letters, memos, or reports should be organized in some logical, efficient order. The textbook presents two methods: inductive and deductive. Here are four other possible plans plus additional information on the inductive and deductive methods discussed by the author.
Chronological. Information presented in time sequence, either forward or backward, is chronological. This organization pattern works well in explaining events over time such as monthly sales figures for the past year. Chronological ordering is also desirable to describe history or development, such as background leading to a personnel/management disagreement. Chronological sequencing of ideas is necessary to show time relationships. However, it is overused by individuals who sequence their writing to reflect their thinking about a problem. Whatever was thought about first is written about first. Such organization prevents flexibility in the writing process and ignores the techniques of emphasis. An important thought may be submerged in a pool of chronologically listed ideas.
Geographical/Spatial. If you were planning a vacation trip touring the United States, you might work out the trip in a geographical order. You could organize your travel around sightseeing in the Pacific Northwest, Middle West, East Coast, and South. Within a large business building, custodial services might be assigned according to location—first floor, second floor, and so forth. Another form of geographical organization is illustrated by the division of a business into sales by state, county, or city. Geographical sequencing of ideas is less usable than other methods because of its rigidity; moreover, relatively few topics lend themselves to such organization.
Value/Size. The logical order for some topics begins with the most valuable or the largest item first. A report on McDonald’s, Inc., might discuss its largest-volume franchise first, followed in descending order by others. Realtors have found that listing their properties from the most expensive to the least expensive (or vice-versa) is helpful to buyers and sellers. Imagine how frustrating it would be to find properties in the same price range if they were listed chronologically.
Simple to Complex. For difficult, technical, or abstract topics, the best plan of organization is often from simple to complex. Good teachers, for example, begin with simple, basic concepts and proceed to more complex topics. If you had to explain how root directories and subdirectories on computer hard disks operate, you could begin with the simple concept of a tree. Explain how the root directory is like the trunk of a tree with branches forming subdirectories. The use of an analogy, a tree to represent the root directory, is helpful in explaining abstract ideas. More complex ideas can follow the foundation built on simple concepts. Whenever readers or listeners are unfamiliar with a subject or when the topic is theoretical, simple-to-complex organization is effective.
Inductive (indirect). This plan supplies examples, facts, or reasons first and then draws conclusions from them. Inductive organization is useful when readers are uninformed or when resistance or antagonism is expected. For example, a report written to convince management to fund an employee fitness program might begin with the advantages of a fitness program: improved job satisfaction, reduced absenteeism and turnover, improved productivity, and lower health care costs. After describing the benefits, the report writer could draw the conclusion that a company-sponsored fitness program is a wise investment. Starting with the main idea first risks the chance that readers opposed to the idea will read no further. Persuasive memos, letters, and reports often follow the indirect plan, described more fully in Chapters 8 and 9.
Deductive (direct). This organizational plan presents the main idea or conclusions and recommendations first. Examples, reasons, and clarification follow. Most business writing is deductive because this method presents information clearly and openly. Use this plan for routine messages, such as those that convey favorable or neutral information. For example, to inform students of campus parking regulations, a straightforward announcement should be made. But if students must be persuaded to pay an extra fee for parking in preferred locations, a letter describing the proposal might be written inductively with the reasons coming before the main idea.