Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
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Keeping Organized

Have you ever been in a conversation, and the person you were talking to moved from topic to topic? Was it frustrating to try to follow the conversation? What about in reading? Have you ever read an article or essay that was not well organized? Did it make the reading less enjoyable?

Organization is an important part of writing, especially with informational texts. Informational texts are nonfiction, factual writings. These may include compare/contrast, cause and effect, problem/solution, or descriptive writing. In any of these patterns, the author’s goal is to inform the audience about the topic or to build upon information the audience may already have.

One of the main ways that an author will organize informational texts is through supplemental features. In this lesson, we will discuss the different supplemental features in an informational text and how these features add to an essay.

Print Features

When writing an informational text, the first organizational features you may use are the print features, the guides of the paper. There are several different print features that an essay may include.

When beginning to read an informational text, you will first see a table of contents, a list of the parts of a paper. The table of contents helps the author organize the main ideas of the paper but also shows the reader what each section is titled and the order in which these sections will appear.

Following the table of contents, you may find a preface, a note from the author that states the purpose of the content. By reading the preface, you will know why the author has written the essay and the main goal of the content.

In addition to these two opening print features, there are some that you may find at the end of the essay. The author may include an index, an alphabetical list of subjects in the essay with page numbers. The index can help you find a particular topic in the paper without having to flip through all the pages scanning for it. In addition to the index, an author may include a glossary, a list of terms with definitions and a pronunciation guide. Both of these features can help you understand terms used by the author.

Organizational Aids

Another key supplemental feature that helps organize an informational text is organization aids, which help the readers find important information.

When reading the paper, you may see that the author uses headings and subheadings. The headings identify the main topics of the paper, and the subheadings separate these main topics into main details. These headings make it easier for you to find specific sections of the essay.

Next, the author may change the font or color to emphasize key words in the essay. Many times an author will use bold print to show a word is important or that it is in the glossary. If an author does not use bold print, he or she may use colored words or italics. All of these changes in font will signal to the reader that this is an important word to know and understand.

Finally, as you read, you may notice that the author has used lists. These lists make it easier for an author to present a lot of information in a shortened way. These lists may be introduced through bullets, labels, or sidebars, which are additional information in the margins of an essay.

Graphics and Illustrations

When writing an informational text, there are many different graphs and illustrations that an author may include. Any of them can expand the meaning through pictures or summarize many key ideas through a graph or visual. They both make it possible for the author to include a lot of information in a much shorter way. How much easier is it to look at a picture of statistics rather than read through them all? Much easier!

For illustrations, an author may use photographs or drawings. By including these, an author can help the audience understand exactly what something looks like without having to describe it in the text.

When including a graphic aid, the author wants to represent information in a specific way. This can be done with:

  • Graphs that show relationships between topics. We often see these when an author wants to show a comparison or statistics.
  • Tables that summarize or compare information. Just like graphs, tables are usually used to compare statistics. For example, if you are writing a paper that includes a discussion of crime rates, you could summarize years of crime by either a graph or a table.
  • Maps will help an author show where something took place. Rather than trying to describe the area with words, an author could include a map that highlights the places discussed in the paper.
  • Diagrams can help simplify information that may be a bit more complex when written. For example, if you are writing a paper about the workings of a machine, it may be more helpful to show a diagram of the machine instead of trying to describe it.

In any of these graphics or illustrations, an author is able to condense important information and make comparisons without being too wordy. This usually helps the reader have a better understanding of complex ideas.

Lesson Summary

Informational texts are nonfiction, factual writings that inform the audience about a topic or build upon previous known ideas. For the author to do this well, the essay must be organized. One way that an author can organize his or her writing is to include supplemental features.

Print features act as guides. These may include table of contents, which is a list of the parts of a paper, a preface, which is a note from the author that states the purpose of the content, an index, or a glossary.

Organizational aids help the readers find important information. To highlight these important areas of information, an author may change the font and use bold, color, or italics. There may also be headings or subheadings that show the main details and their support. In addition, an author may separate important ideas from the text through bullets or notes in the margins.

Finally, an author may use illustrations or graphics to summarize main ideas. Illustrations, such as photographs or drawings, let the audience really see what something looks like rather than trying to describe it. Graphics, such as graphs, tables, maps, or diagrams, make it possible for the author to take a lot of information, such as statistics, and condense it in a much easier way to follow.

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