One of the initial challenges you'll face as a writer or presenter is deciding how to organize your messages and supporting material. It's possible that an organizational plan will pop into your head like a cartoon light bulb burning brightly. But it's more likely that you will need to look again at your notes, analyze them, and then move toward an arrangement or form that not only fits your purpose but best helps you achieve it.

You'll need to consider your communication strategy—what it is that you want your audience to feel, think, and do. Only then (unless you had that eureka light bulb moment), are you prepared to select an organizational plan.

What are your choices?


These ways of organizing your document or presentation replicate the cognitive structures through which thinking occurs; using one of them helps make your thinking clearer for your audience and thus easier to follow. Belonging to the logos category of persuasive appeals, they use the power of logic and reason to convince your audience to accept and act upon your message.

Here are the eight persuasive appeal patterns:


This pattern helps you isolate and explain the causes and subsequent effects of a circumstance, condition, or event—past, present, or future. It has several variations; you can, for instance, choose to present all causes first and all effects second. Or you can begin with a cause and follow with its effect before moving to the second cause and its effect, then the third, etc.

But you can also start with the effects and work back to causes, a tactic that may work especially well when the effects you specify are unexpected, startling, or provocative. Here, too, you can introduce all effects before discussing all causes or address the effect/cause pairs one-by-one.

As you choose a cause/effect pattern, keep in mind how your audience will receive and retain your messages. Especially in a presentation, it may be better to organize by taking up the cause/effect (or effect/cause) pairs one at a time. The same is true when the causes and/or effects are complex or intricate. Your audience may more readily understand causal connections when both elements of the pattern are presented together.


At times you may want to sort things into categories—categories of responsibility, for example, or types of ad campaigns or requirements or anticipated difficulties. To do so, create accurate, practical categories by applying the same organizing principle to each one and providing examples of the items each includes. If, for example, you are writing or speaking about department responsibilities, you could classify those responsibilities according to the groups to which they are extended: clients, colleagues, and management. Or you might categorize them by type: financial, communication, and quality assurance responsibilities. You could choose to classify them according to function or team.

In the coming weeks, Speak Previews® will take a look at the remaining six common patterns. Together, the eight patterns bulleted above as well as induction and deduction provide an array of organizational choices that give form to a document or presentation. As visual artist Gerhard Richter notes, "Without form, communication stops...without form, you have everybody burbling on to themselves, whenever and however, things that no one else can understand and—rightly—no one else is interested in."