Instructional Systems Handout # OC1
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Organizing Compositions

General Advice

Often the difference between success or failure in any undertaking--a business, a club or team activity, a political race--is whether or not the right things are done at the right time. Writing a composition is no different. Just like so many other jobs today, writing a composition is a complex task requiring a thorough knowledge of the steps involved and a workable plan for carrying them out.

Student compositions fall into three broad categories: first, there are those that are planned, researched, and written out of class, to be turned in on a specific due date. Second, there are those that are written in class from topics assigned ahead of time. And third, there are those that are written spontaneously, on the spur of the moment, from topics that you have not seen prior to class time. All of the writing situations referred to here have one thing in common: Planning and organization are essential to their success.

The advice that we give here is suitable to all these situations. The student would simply have more time to collect information and plan the out-of-class composition than he would for the in-class, spontaneous theme. However, because more time is allowed for the out-of-class theme, much more is generally expected of the writer. Regardless of whether your next composition is an out-of-class or in- class assignment, there are some skills that you can pick up here that will make planning and organizing that writing assignment much easier.


First, let's look at the overall structure of a composition. A good composition--writing teachers from Aristotle to the present inform us--has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. The beginning part of a composition (usually just one paragraph in a student theme) gains the reader's attention and interest, identifies the specific subject of the composition and the purpose the writer wants to achieve and, in some instances, even sets forth the plan for the rest of the composition. The middle of the composition is reserved for detailed support of the writer's thesis or purpose. Here, detailed explanations and evidence are offered to back up each of the points the writer has planned to cover. The ending indicates to the reader that the specific discussion is concluded by re-stating or re-affirming the writer's thesis and reviewing the major parts of the discussion.

Briefly stated, the writer's overall organizational strategy is to say what he is going to say, to say it in great detail, then to say what he has said. In addition to the major divisions of a composition--the beginning, the middle, and the ending--the following diagram shows some of the detailed parts of a composition. Take a look at the diagram on the next page before going over these parts.




Opening Sentence identifies broad subject and interests reader Linking Sentence(s) links opening to thesis/purpose Thesis/Purpose Sentence identifies specific subject Organizational Plan (open or closed) indicates major points to be covered
in middle paragraphs



Each Contains . . . Topic Sentence identifies one major point in support of thesis/purpose
sentence Supporting Sentences (6 to 10) provide evidence, reasons, and examples
to support topic sentence Ending/Transition Sentence concludes one middle paragraph, leads to the next



Restatement of Thesis/Purpose provides a variation of the thesis/purpose
sentence Review of Major Points concludes discussion by reviewing major points
from each middle paragraph


Parts of a Composition

The first term (you will see it at the top of the diagram) is theme. A theme in an English composition class refers to a composition of moderate length (about 400 to 600 words) requiring the writer to explain clearly or to write persuasively about a particular idea.

The next term on the diagram is opening sentence. The opening sentence identifies the broad subject and interests the reader.

The term that follows that is linking sentence. The linking sentence (or sentences because it sometimes takes more than one) makes the connection between the opening statement that interests the reader and the thesis or purpose sentence that tells what the composition is actually about.

Next on our list we have the thesis/purpose sentence. Thesis sentence is a term you are probably already familiar with. Most of the time the term thesis is used to describe the key idea of a persuasive composition. Other times the term statement of purpose or something similar is used to describe the key idea of an explanatory composition. Here we will use the term thesis/purpose for both persuasive and explanatory situations. The thesis/purpose sentence identifies the specific subject.

Organizational plan is used here to refer to the phrase, clause, or even separate sentence used with the thesis/purpose sentence to indicate the major points that will be discussed and the plan to be followed in the discussion. The organizational plan is "open" when the specific points that will be covered are not mentioned directly. The organizational plan is "closed" when the specific points of the middle paragraphs are mentioned directly in the thesis/purpose sentence.

Right below middle paragraphs on our diagram you will see the term topic sentence. Topic sentence is a widely used term to describe the main idea of a paragraph. The topic sentence identifies one major point in support of the thesis/purpose sentence.

The term supporting speaks for itself. A typical middle paragraph in a well-written student composition would contain six to ten supporting sentences providing appropriate evidence, reasons, and examples to support the topic sentence.

The next term on our diagram is ending/transition sentence. The ending/transition sentence concludes the discussion of the major point covered in that paragraph and provides the transitional link to the paragraph that follows.

The next term for discussion on our diagram is restatement of thesis/purpose. The restatement of thesis/purpose provides a variation of the original thesis/purpose sentence.

After restatement of thesis purpose, we have review of major points. The concluding review covers the major points of the middle paragraphs using wording that suggests concluding remarks.

More will be said about all of these terms and the techniques that they describe as we proceed through the unit, but this overview should give you some preparation for the specific discussions and practice assignments that follow. Anytime that you would like to return to this diagram to study it more closely, do so.

*The material in this handout has been adapted from the audio-tutorial program Organizing Compositions by A. J. Kline with permission of the author and publisher, Instructional Systems. To order, see the Instructional Systems Website,

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