Summer means it’s time to prepare Ma’s picnic for our extended family and her ever-evolving circle of friends. My role is to compile the list of invitees, send out the invitations, and, most important of all, prepare the handout, Singalong with Gertrude. Recently, I sent her the list of songs we discussed—a combination from previous years and a few new ones. I created the list and sorted it alphabetically. That way, I could easily identify and delete duplicate titles from the list. When I sent her the alphabetical list, she did not like the sequence! A singalong should not progress from Aba Daba Honeymoon to Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah. Musically, it makes no sense.
Of course, as a good daughter, I went through several revisions, and I think we now have it right. We start with Hail, Hail, the Gang’s all Here. We sprinkle some of the happy, smile songs throughout—Just Let a Smile be Your Umbrella; When You’re Smiling; and Smile, Darn You, Smile. We made sure that Ma’s favorite songs are at the top of the list, since with 50 songs, we may not sing them all. We will, though, conclude with the last song on the list, May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You. So variety and importance factored into the organization.
Getting the sequence right made me think about organization in publications. Whether it’s a song list, report, manual, brochure, book, blog, or any other piece, the organization is important to the reader, which means it must be important for the writer! A writer may create a piece using one organizational principle. For example, the writer with a list of topics to cover might have complete information on some topics, small gaps in information on others, and meager information on yet others. It makes sense to write the topics for which the information is most complete and, as the information on other topics gets fleshed out, write those topics. When all topics are written, the writer takes into account the sequence that makes sense for the reader. Here is where there are many options.
Let’s say you are writing a brochure that introduces shoppers to the layout of a new supermarket. Organizing your brochure spatially might make sense. For example, aisle one includes fruits, vegetables, and beverages; aisle two has meat, seafood, delicatessen, and cheeses; aisle three has soups, canned goods, sauces, spices, and seasonings; and so forth. If your brochure includes a section on shopping for food essentials, you might want to organize the section from basic to complex. The basics might include essential items that must appear on your shopping list: proteins, vegetables, carbohydrates, and fats. You might progress to a more complex section that includes the ready-made meals and elegant pastries that the supermarket offers.
You might be writing a quick start guide to accompany a new desktop computer, monitor, keyboard, and mouse. How do you organize the contents? You likely do so chronologically. Step one: Check that you have received all of the items on the packing list. Step two: Unpack all of the components. Step three: Connect the various components. Step four: Check that the computer starts up and that the monitor displays the preloaded software applications. After all is said and done, if all does not work as expected, try the troubleshooting techniques. Since you do not have the space to address every possible item that could go awry, the techniques presented are likely selected based on frequency of occurrence.
If you are a financial planner, you might write a paper that educates your clients on your approach to amassing and retaining wealth. You might start by organizing the discussion into problem and solution. The problem might be having sufficient funds for your entire life. The solution for achieving that goal can include a number of options related to savings, investments, retirement age, and so forth. Your paper might use cause and effect to identify what leads to outliving your resources. Perhaps you will present an argument with the pros and cons of various investment strategies. And you likely will compare and contrast your philosophy and results with those of your competitors.
In real estate, they talk about location, location, location. In publications, we talk about organization, organization, organization. What can you add to the organizational principles presented? We’re eager to hear from you!