6 – Organization
When you were learning to write, your first experiences with organization likely revolved around the classic five-paragraph essay structure: an introduction, three body paragraphs that covered specific points, and a conclusion. As you’ve advanced in your academic career, much of the writing you’ve done has expanded on this structure (such as by adding more body paragraphs for longer papers).
Technical and professional communication, however, often follows more nuanced structural templates. These templates reflect how information is used in these contexts. Whereas an essay begins with a general introduction and weaves summary, purpose, analysis, and persuasion throughout, technical and professional communication often begins with “spoilers.” In these types of documents, readers often expect to see the purpose and major takeaways before any analysis or discussion. (For more on analyzing writing situations in technical and professional communication, see Chapter 2: The Rhetorical Situation.)
Audiences also expect to see more extensive use of headings and subheadings. One genre that frequently relies on headings is the memo, which typically conveys specific information to a variety of audiences within one organization. (See Chapter 15 for more on memos.) Different sections that appear in a memo reflect different audiences:
- A Purpose section explains the goal and focus of the document.
- A Summary section covers key points for an audience who will not need to read the full document (such as an executive).
- A Discussion section provides additional context for the key points and the writer’s conception of the task or subject (likely read by the writer’s coworker or immediate supervisor).
- A Recommendation section clarifies the response that the writer wants or expects from their audience(s) once they have read the memo.
Another organizational strategy that characterizes a great deal of technical and workplace writing (particularly in scientific fields) would be : Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion. This structure reflects an emphasis on the scientific method, and it breaks down information in a manner that promotes the objectivity that research requires. This strategy is often employed in abstracts and recommendation reports. See Chapter 20: Recommendation Reports for additional information.
Each of these sections has the following purposes:
The Introduction provides essential background information on the topic for the purpose of clarifying the area of investigation and why it needs to be addressed.
The Methods section details how the writer intends to investigate the topic and collect data, outlining the research process. It also conveys the labor involved in this process, as well as defends the writer’s design choices in constructing the project.
The Results section reports what data was collected without any commentary or interpretation by the writers. This section allows the audience to assess any potential patterns in the data for themselves, and it reinforces the writer’s objectivity.
The Discussion section is where the writer provides an interpretation of the results based on any emergent patterns. It is also an opportunity for the writer to reflect on their choices in designing data collection methods, evaluating potential limitations for the study, and identifying possibilities for future research.
These basic memo and IMRaD structures, with some variations, will be used extensively in our class, but they are not the only ones technical and professional writers should be aware of. The following section will provide additional guidance for organizing different kinds of technical and professional documents.
Acronym for a common scientific report structure: Introduction, Materials and Methods, Results, and Discussion.