Organize Your Material

Organize your material in a way that helps readers to grasp the important information early and to navigate through the document easily. Your document will be an interruption to your reader’s busy day. They’ll read in haste, picking out the information relevant to themselves. They’ll be asking two questions with every sentence they read:

  • So what?

  • How does this affect me?

Plain words and short sentences will go a long way to helping them find the answers. But you will also need to organize the material so that the reader can extract what they want in the shortest possible time.

Several models are useful:

(1) Top-heavy triangle. Put your most important point first, follow it with the next most important, and so on, until your last paragraph includes relatively minor points.


Request for leave
Scene-setting Thanks for your email yesterday
Big News The managing director has agreed to your request to take special unpaid leave immediately after your visit to Athens. It is vital, though, that we have a brief written report of your key findings as soon as the business part of the trip is completed. Will you please fax this to us on 24 March.
Less important As your flight was booked some time ago, please liaise with Michael South about rearranging the return leg.
Minor points Hope this helps. We’ll speak again after Tuesday’s meeting

(2) Problem – Cause – Solution


state the problem – You asked me to find out how a batch of chocolate came to be contaminated during the night shift on 25 April.

state the cause – What seems to have happened is that some inadequately treated reclaimed chocolate was added to the mix. This occurred because the reclaimed chocolate was mis-labelled and stored in the wrong part of the factory.

then say what should happen in the future – The contaminated batch will have to be destroyed; the cost of the loss is about £2,800, taking everything into account. I have told supervisors to tighten their procedures for labelling and storage. They’ll be reporting back to me next week.

(3) S-C-R-A-P (Situation, Complication, Resolution, Action, Politeness) – A corny mnemonic, but useful.


Order for 5 Sky-Fly hang gliders, £2,250 each
Situation Thank you for your order dated 17 December; my apologies for the delay in responding.
Complication The manufacturers have recently withdrawn the Sky-Fly and now offer a much improved model, the Sky Jet. I enclose a leaflet which gives details of all its features.
Resolution Although the price of the Sky Jet is £255 more than the old model, I can offer it to you at a special introductory price of £2,385 until 10 January next. We could let you have immediate delivery.
Action If you would like to order the new model at the discount price, do please give me or my assistants a call.
Politeness I look forward to hearing from you.

So, Organize Your Material in a way that helps readers to grasp the important information early and to navigate through the document easily.

Related Links:

Keep Sentences Short.
Use words your readers are likely to understand.
Use only as many words as you really need.
Prefer the active voice.
Use the clearest, liveliest verb to express your thoughts.
Use Vertical Lists to make complex materil understandable.
Keep Electronic Text Communication simple.
Put your points positively when you can.
Reduce cross-references to the minimum.
Try to avoid sexist usage.
Avoidable English Errors are so many.
Avoid fusty first sentences and formula finishes.
Put accurate punctuation at the heart of your writing.
Avoid being enslaved by seven writing myths.
Plan Before You Write.
Organize your material in a simple way.
Consider different ways of setting out your information.
Devote special effort to producing lucid instructions.
Use clear layout to present your plain words.
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