6 – Organization

Organizing Principles

Anonymous and Matt McKinney

Once you know the basic elements of your message, you need to decide in what order to present them to your audience. A central organizing principle will help you determine a logical order for your information. These principles are helpful in both written and verbal communication (see Chapter 14: Oral Communication).

One common organizing principle is chronology, or time: the writer tells what happens first, then what happens next, then what is happening now, and, finally, what is expected to happen in the future. Another common organizing principle is comparison: the writer describes one product, an argument on one side of an issue, or one possible course of action, and then compares it with another product, argument, or course of action.

As an example, let’s imagine that you are a business writer within the streaming services industry and you have been assigned to write a series of informative pieces about the evolution of Netflix and the need for a new business strategy that deals with contemporary competitors. Just as Netflix overcame industry titans like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video by shifting to a subscription model and streaming service, it will need to maintain its edge against Amazon Prime, Hulu, and others through a retooling of its design and original content.

In deciding how to organize your report, you have several challenges and many possibilities regarding different organizing principles to use. Part of your introduction will involve a historical perspective and a discussion of the events that led from the birth of Netflix as a DVD-by-mail rental company to an international streaming service that now faces a number of competitors. Other aspects will include comparing the business strategies of Netflix with other major streaming services and the potential transformative effects your new plan will have on the market. You will need to acknowledge the complex relationships and challenges that the company’s previous adaptations have overcome and highlight the common benefits. You will be called on to write informative documents as part of a public relations initiative, persuasive essays to underscore the benefits for those who prefer the status quo, and even speeches for celebrations and awards.

Table 6.1 lists 17 different organizing principles and how they might be applied to various pieces you would write about Netflix. The left column provides the name of the organizing principle. The center column explains the process of organizing a document according to each principle, and the third column provides an example. Some of the principles in this chart can also be found in Chapter 14: Oral Communication, and some are unique to written communication.

Table 14.7. Sample organizing principles for a speech.
Explanation of Process Example
  1. Time (Chronological)
Structuring your document by time shows a series of events or steps in a process, which typically has a beginning, middle, and end. “Once upon a time stories” follow a chronological pattern. Before Netflix, people primarily consumed media at home through VHS and DVD players and rented titles from corporations like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video. Netflix initially started as a DVD-by-mail company in 1998, then it switched to its subscription model shortly after. Blockbuster had the chance to purchase Netflix for $50 million in 2000, but declined.[1]
  1. Comparison
Structuring your document by comparison focuses on the similarities and/or differences between points or concepts. A comparison of Netflix and its competitors such as Hulu and Amazon Prime, focusing on available original content and platform design.
  1. Contrast
Structuring your document by using contrasting points highlights the differences between items and concepts. A contrast between Netflix’s share of the streaming services market five and ten years ago versus today.
  1. Cause and Effect
Structuring your document by cause and effect establishes a relationship between two events or situations, making the connection clear. Netflix changed the way people consume and purchase media. Rather than renting or purchasing individual titles, people now purchase a monthly subscription to a library of content that changes regularly. Advertising shifted from commercials to product placement and viral marketing. Netflix also gave rise to “binge-watching” habits of media consumption.
  1. Problem and Solution
Structuring your document by problem and solution means you state the problem and detail how it was solved. This approach is effective for persuasive speeches. Netflix enjoyed a head start in the streaming service market, but major companies like Amazon, Disney, and Apple have started to offer increasing competition. Netflix can stay ahead of the competition by rebooting franchises popular with its primarily millennial and Gen Z audience, continuing to produce creative original content, etc.
  1. Classification (Categorical)
Structuring your document by classification establishes categories. Netflix features competitive original content in several categories: television series, film, stand-up comedy specials, and documentaries. A focus on these categories allows us to see which type of content has the most potential for increasing market share.
  1. Biographical
Structuring your document by biography means examining specific people as they relate to the central topic. Marc Randolph and Reed Hastings founded the company in 1997. Randolph served on the board of the company until his retirement in 2004. In 2019, Netflix negotiated a massive content deal with Benioff and Weiss, the showrunners for Game of Thrones.[2]
  1. Space (Spatial)
Structuring your document by space involves the parts of something and how they fit to form the whole. A description of the layout of Netflix’s website and platform.
  1. Ascending and Descending
Structuring your document by ascending or descending order involves focusing on quantity and quality. One good story (quality) leads to the larger picture, or the reverse. he document may start by describing the browsing habits of a streaming service consumer. Major technological advancements and shifts in marketing strategy over time can be expressed through sections with subheadings, body paragraphs, or bulleted lists. Further details can also be expressed through embedded visuals, such as graphs and charts.
  1. Psychological
It is also called “Monroe’s Motivated Sequence.”[3] Structuring your speech on the psychological aspects of the audience involves focusing on their inherent needs and wants. See Maslow[4] and Shutz.[5] The speaker calls attention to a need, then focuses on the satisfaction of the need, visualization of the solution, and ends with a proposed or historical action. This is useful for a persuasive speech. The millennial and Gen Z generations craved media that reflected their own experiences and circumstances, which cable television was not providing. These experiences included an increasing emphasis on intersectionality and diversity, exploring topics that were previously too controversial for television, etc.
  1. Elimination
Structuring your document using the process of elimination involves outlining all the possibilities. Netflix pioneered the streaming service model that now dictates how content is created and purchased. Tracing the company’s evolution from DVDs-by-mail to streaming content, as well as the progression of its competitors from Blockbuster to Amazon, reveals the outsized influence this corporation has had.
By reviewing this progression, we can come to see which factors are most important to consider in implementing fresh changes to our business model.
  1. Example
Structuring your document by example involves providing vivid, specific examples (as opposed to abstract representations of data) to support main points. Prior to Netflix, television series were typically consumed on a weekly basis on their initial run. This forced shows to come up with strategies to reinforce continuity, such as frequent recaps or self-contained storylines (such as The Office or Friends).
With Netflix, however, viewers can consume an entire season of a show in one sitting. This allows for longer and more complex forms of storytelling (such as Ozark or Sense8).
  1. Process and Procedure
Structuring your document by process and procedure is similar to the time (chronological) organizational pattern with the distinction of steps or phases that lead to a complete end goal. This is often referred to as the “how-to” organizational pattern. From mail order to streaming, licensed content to original, and content development to consumption, we can examine the history of Netflix’s business model in terms of successful adaptation and why continuous adaptation has been so important for the company’s success.
  1. Point Pattern
Structuring your document in a series of points allows for the presentation of diverse assertions to be aligned in a cohesive argument with clear support. Informed changes to Netflix’s current business model can result in an increased number of subscriptions, a higher rate of continuous subscriptions, and a more impressive selection of content compared to competitors.
  1. Definition
Structuring your document with a guiding definition allows for a clear introduction of terms and concepts while reducing the likelihood of misinterpretation. An effective streaming service can be defined in terms of its user interface, available content, and subscription rates.
  1. Testimonial
Structuring your document around a testimony, or first- person account of an experience, can be an effective way to make an abstract concept clearer to an audience. According to our recent focus group, consumers are now much more savvy in how they subscribe to streaming services. When Netflix dominated the market in prior years, these group members were more likely to continuously subscribe. With more competition, however, they are more likely to subscribe intermittently–just long enough to consume a specific bit of content. This highlights the need for Netflix to change its approach regarding original content.
  1. Ceremonial (Events, Ceremonies, or Celebrations)
Structuring your document ceremonially focuses on the following:

  1. Thanking dignitaries and representatives
  2. The importance of the event
  3. The relationship of the event to the audience
  4. Thanking the audience for participation in the event, ceremony, or celebration
Many thanks to all of the marketing strategists, content creators, and software engineers for maintaining the quality and integrity of Netflix as a platform. Without your contributions, this company would not be as successful as it is today.

This text was derived from

University of Minnesota. Business Communication for Success. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing, 2015. https://open.lib.umn.edu/businesscommunication/. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

  1. “Timeline of Netflix,” Wikipedia, accessed August 15, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_Netflix.
  2. “Timeline of Netflix,” Wikipedia, accessed August 15, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_Netflix.
  3. Joe Ayres and J. Miller, Effective Public Speaking, 4th ed. (Madison, WI: Brown & Benchmark, 1994), 274.
  4. Abraham Maslow, Motivation and Personality, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1970).
  5. William Shutz, The Interpersonal Underworld (Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior Books, 1966).


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