7.3 Organizational Patterns of Arrangement

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Two OSU students sitting at a laptop together discussing an assignment.


After deciding which main points and subpoints you must include, you can get to work writing up the speech. Before you do so, however, it is helpful to consider how you will organize the ideas. There are many ways you can organize speeches, and these approaches will be different depending on whether you are preparing an informative or persuasive speech. These are referred to as organizational patterns for arranging your main points in a speech. The chronological (or temporal), topical, spatial, or causal patterns may be better suited to informative speeches, whereas the Problem-Solution, Monroe’s Motivated Sequence (Monroe, 1949), Claim-to-Proof (Mudd & Sillar, 1962), or Refutation pattern would work best for persuasive speeches. Sample outlines for persuasive speeches can be found in Chapter 17.

Chronological Pattern

When you speak about events that are linked together by time, it is sensible to engage the chronological organization pattern. In a chronological speech, main points are delivered according to when they happened and could be traced on a calendar or clock. Some professors use the term temporal to reflect any speech pattern dealing with taking the audience through time. Arranging main points in chronological order can be helpful when describing historical events to an audience as well as when the order of events is necessary to understand what you wish to convey. Informative speeches about a series of events most commonly engage the chronological style, as do many process speeches (e.g., how to bake a cake or build an airplane). Another time when the chronological style makes sense is when you tell the story of someone’s life or career. For instance, a speech about Oprah Winfrey might be arranged chronologically. In this case, the main points are arranged by following Winfrey’s life from birth to the present time. Life events (e.g., early life, her early career, her life after ending the Oprah Winfrey Show) are connected together according to when they happened and highlight the progression of Winfrey’s career. Organizing the speech in this way illustrates the interconnectedness of life events. Below you will find a way in which you can organize your main points chronologically:

Topic: Oprah Winfrey (Chronological Pattern)

Thesis: Oprah’s career can be understood by four key, interconnected life stages.

Preview: First, let’s look at Oprah’s early life. Then, we will look at her early career, followed by her years during the Oprah Winfrey show. Finally, we will explore what she is doing now.

I.       Oprah’s childhood was spent in rural Mississippi, where she endured sexual abuse from family members

II.     Oprah’s early career was characterized by stints on local radio and television networks in Nashville and Chicago.

III.    Oprah’s tenure as host of the Oprah Winfrey Show began in 1986 and lasted until 2011, a period of time marked by much success.

IV.     Oprah’s most recent media venture is OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network, which plays host to a variety of television shows including Oprah’s Next Chapter.

Topical Pattern

When the main points of your speech center on ideas that are more distinct from one another, a topical organization pattern may be used. In a topical speech, main points are developed according to the different aspects, subtopics or topics within an overall topic. Although they are all part of the overall topic, the order in which they are presented really doesn’t matter. For example, you are currently attending college. Within your college, there are various student services that are important for you to use while you are here. You may use the library, The Learning Center (TLC), Student Development office, ASG Computer Lab, and Financial Aid. To organize this speech topically, it doesn’t matter which area you speak about first, but here is how you could organize it.

Topic: Student Services at College of the Canyons

Thesis and Preview: College of the Canyons has five important student services, which include the library, TLC, Student Development Office, ASG Computer Lab, and Financial Aid.

I.       The library can be accessed five days a week and online and has a multitude of books, periodicals, and other resources to use.

II.      The TLC has subject tutors, computers, and study rooms available to use six days a week.

III.     The Student Development Office is a place that assists students with their ID cards, but also provides students with discount tickets and other student related     needs.

IV.      The ASG computer lab is open for students to use for several hours a day, as well as to print up to 15 pages a day for free.

V.       Financial Aid is one of the busiest offices on campus, offering students a multitude of methods by which they can supplement their personal finances paying             for both tuition and books.

Spatial Pattern

Another way to organize the points of a speech is through a spatial speech, which arranges main points according to their physical and geographic relationships. The spatial style is an especially useful organization pattern when the main point’s importance is derived from its location or directional focus. Things can be described from top to bottom, inside to outside, left to right, north to south, and so on. Importantly, speakers using a spatial style should offer commentary about the placement of the main points as they move through the speech, alerting audience members to the location changes. For instance, a speech about The University of Georgia might be arranged spatially; in this example, the spatial organization frames the discussion in terms of the campus layout. The spatial style is fitting since the differences in architecture and uses of space are related to particular geographic areas, making location a central organizing factor. As such, the spatial style highlights these location differences.

Topic: University of Georgia (Spatial Pattern)

Thesis: The University of Georgia is arranged into four distinct sections, which are characterized
by architectural and disciplinary differences.

I.      In North Campus, one will find the University’s oldest building,
   a sprawling treelined quad, and the famous Arches, all of which are nestled against Athens’ downtown district.

II.     In West Campus, dozens of dormitories provide housing for the University’s large
   undergraduate population and students can regularly be found lounging outside
   or at one of the dining halls.

III.    In East Campus, students delight in newly constructed, modern buildings and
   enjoy the benefits of the University’s health center, recreational facilities, and
   science research buildings.

IV.     In South Campus, pharmacy, veterinary, and biomedical science students traverse
   newly constructed parts of campus featuring well-kept landscaping and modern

Causal Pattern

A causal speech informs audience members about causes and effects that have already happened with respect to some condition, event, etc. One approach can be to share what caused something to happen, and what the effects were. Or, the reverse approach can be taken where a speaker can begin by sharing the effects of something that occurred, and then share what caused it. For example, in 1994, there was a 6.7 magnitude earthquake that occurred in the San Fernando Valley in Northridge, California. Let’s look at how we can arrange this speech first by using a cause-effect pattern:

Topic: Northridge Earthquake

Thesis: The Northridge earthquake was a devastating event that was caused by an unknown fault
and resulted in the loss of life and billions of dollars of damage.

I. The Northridge earthquake was caused by a fault that was previously unknown and located nine miles beneath Northridge.

II. The Northridge earthquake resulted in the loss of 57 lives and over 40 billion dollars of damage in Northridge and surrounding communities.

Depending on your topic, you may decide it is more impactful to start with the effects, and work back to the causes (effect-cause pattern). Let’s take the same example and flip it around:

Thesis: The Northridge earthquake was a devastating event that was that resulted in the loss of
life and billions of dollars in damage, and was caused by an unknown fault below Northridge.

I.      The Northridge earthquake resulted in the loss of 57 lives and over 40 billion dollars of damage in Northridge and surrounding communities.

II.    The Northridge earthquake was caused by a fault that was previously unknown and located nine miles beneath Northridge.

Why might you decide to use an effect-cause approach rather than a cause-effect approach? In this particular example, the effects of the earthquake were truly horrible. If you heard all of that information first, you would be much more curious to hear about what caused such devastation. Sometimes natural disasters are not that exciting, even when they are horrible. Why? Unless they affect us directly, we may not have the same attachment to the topic. This is one example where an effect-cause approach may be very impactful.



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