60 Patterns of Organization

Learning Objectives

After studying this chapter, the student will be able to:

  1. Explain why organization is necessary and valuable to public speaking.
  2. Differentiate the different types of organizational patterns.
  3. Choose an organizational pattern that is most logical to the speech’s specific purpose.
  4. Construct an outline for an extemporaneous speech.
  5. Create connective statements that will help the audience understand the logic and structure of a speech.

Patterns of Organization

At this point you should see how much your audience needs organization. You also know that as you do research, you will group together similar pieces of information from different sources in your research. As you group your research information, you will want to make sure that your content is adhering to your specific purpose statement and will look for ways that your information can be grouped together into categories.

Interestingly, there are some standard ways of organizing these categories, which are called “patterns of organization.” In each of the examples below, you will see how the specific purpose gives shape to the organization of the speech and how each one exemplifies one of the six main organizational patterns. In each example, only the three to five main sections or “points” (Roman numerals) are given, without the other essential parts of the outline. Please note that these are simple, basic outlines for example purposes, and your instructor will of course expect much more content from the outline you submit for class.


Specific Purpose: To describe to my classmates about the 9/11 terrorist attack.

  1. The first step is to discuss what happened before the event.
  2. The second step is to talk about the actual event.
  3. The third step is to examine what has happened after the 9/11 event.

The example above uses what is termed the chronological pattern of organization. Chronological always refers to time order. Since the specific purpose of the aforementioned speech is to look at the past, the present, and the future of the event, it is logical to put these events in a chronological order. It is illogical to talk about the future of the events, without knowing what happened in the first place. If you believe that your speech would best be organized by asking your audience to think in terms of time, you would be well-suited to choose the chronological pattern of organization.

In addition, chronological speeches that refer to processes can be given for two reasons. First, they can be for understanding. Many individuals in your audience may not have been alive for the 9/11 terrorist attack. Thus, a chronological pattern of organization may be used to orient the audience to the topic. That understanding may also lead them to more empathy for those who lived through the 9/11 event. Second, chronological or process speeches can be for action and instruction. For a speech about changing the oil in a car, your purpose is that the audience could actually change the oil in their cars after listening to the speech.

One of the problems with chronological speeches is, as mentioned before, that you would not want just a list of activities. It is important to chunk the information into three to five groups so that the audience has a framework. For example, in a speech about the history of the Civil Rights Movement, your “grouping” or “chunking” might be:

  1. The movement saw African-Americans struggling for legal recognition before the Brown v. Board of Education decision.
  2. The movement was galvanized and motivated by the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
  3. The movement saw its goals met in the Civil Rights Act of 1965.

It would be easy in the case of the Civil Rights Movement to list the many events that happened over more than two decades, but that could be overwhelming for the audience. In this outline, the audience is focused on the three events that pushed it forward, rather than the persons involved in the movement. You could give a speech with a focus on people, but it would be different and probably less chronological and more topical (see below).

We should say here that, realistically, the example given above is still too broad. It would be useful, perhaps, for an audience with almost no knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement, but too basic and not really informative for other audiences. One of the Roman numeral points would probably be a more specific focus.


You can see that chronological is a highly-used organizational structure, since one of the ways our minds work is through time-orientation—past, present, future. Another common thought process is movement in space or direction, which is called the spatial pattern. For example:

Specific Purpose: To explain to my classmates the three regional cooking styles of Italy.

  1. In the mountainous region of the North, the food emphasizes cheese and meat.
  2. In the middle region of Tuscany, the cuisine emphasizes grains and olives.
  3. In the southern region and Sicily, the diet is based on fish and seafood.

In this example, the content is moving from northern to southern Italy, as the word “regional” would indicate. Here is a good place to note that grouping or “chunking” in a speech helps simplicity, and to meet the principle of KISS (Keep It Simple, Speaker). If you were to actually study Italian cooking in depth, sources will say there are twenty regions. But “covering” twenty regions in a speech is not practical, and while the regions would be distinct for a “foodie” or connoisseur of Italian cooking, for a beginner or general audience, three is a good place to start. You could at the end of the speech note that more in-depth study would show the twenty regions, but that in your speech you have used three regions to show the similarities of the twenty regions rather than the small differences.

For a more localized example:

Specific Purpose: To explain to my classmates the layout of King Tut’s pyramid.

  1. The first chamber of the tomb was antechamber.
  2. The second chamber of the tomb was the annex.
  3. The third chamber of the tomb was the burial chamber.
  4. The last chamber of the tomb was the treasury. (Lucas, 2012)


Specific Purpose: To describe to my Anatomy and Physiology class the three layers of the human skin.

  1. The outer layer is the epidermis, which is the outermost barrier of protection.
  2. The second layer beneath is the dermis.
  3. The third layer closest to the bone is the hypodermis, made of fat and connective tissue.

The key to spatial organization is to be logical in progression rather than jumping around, as in this example:

  1. The Native Americans of Middle Georgia were primarily the Creek nation.
  2. The Native Americans of North Georgia were of the Cherokee tribe nation.
  3. The Native Americans of South Georgia were mostly of the Hitchiti and Oconee tribes.

It makes more sense to start at the top (north) of the state and move down (south) or start at the bottom and move up rather than randomly discuss unconnected areas.


The topical organizational pattern is probably the most all-purpose in that many speech topics could use it. Many subjects will have main points that naturally divide into “types of,” “kinds of,” “sorts of,” or “categories of.” Other subjects naturally divide into “parts of the whole.” However, as mentioned previously, you want to keep your categories simple, clear, distinct, and at five or fewer.

Specific Purpose: To explain to my freshmen students the concept of SMART goals.

  1. SMART goals are specific and clear.
  2. SMART goals are measurable.
  3. SMART goals are attainable or achievable.
  4. SMART goals are relevant and worth doing.
  5. SMART goals are time-bound and doable within a time period.

Specific Purpose: To explain the four characteristics of quality diamonds.

  1. Valuable diamonds have the characteristic of cut.
  2. Valuable diamonds have the characteristic of carat.
  3. Valuable diamonds have the characteristic of color.
  4. Valuable diamonds have the characteristic of clarity.

Specific Purpose: To describe to my audience the four main chambers of a human heart.

  1. The first chamber in the blood flow is the right atrium.
  2. The second chamber in the blood flow is the right ventricle.
  3. The third chamber in the blood flow is the left atrium.
  4. The fourth chamber in the blood flow and then out to the body is the left ventricle.

At this point in discussing organizational patterns and looking at these examples, two points should be made about them and about speech organization in general.

First, you might look at the example about the chambers of the heart and say, “But couldn’t that be chronological, too, since that’s the order of the blood flow procedure?” Yes, it could. There will be times when a specific purpose could work with two different organizational patterns. In this case, it’s just a matter of emphasis. This speech is emphasizing the anatomy of the heart; if the speech’s specific purpose were “To explain to my classmates the flow of blood through the chambers of the heart,” the organizational pattern would be chronological but very similar (However, since the blood goes to the lungs to be oxygenated before coming back to the left atrium, that might alter the pattern some).

Another principle of organization to think about when using topical organization is “climax” organization. That means putting your strongest argument or most important point last when applicable. For example:

Specific purpose: To defend before my classmates the proposition that capital punishment should be abolished in the United States.

  1. Capital punishment does not save money for the justice system.
  2. Capital punishment does not deter crime in the United States historically.
  3. Capital punishment has resulted in many unjust executions.

In most people’s minds, “unjust executions” is a bigger reason to end a practice than the cost, since an unjust execution means the loss of an innocent life and a violation of our principals. If you believe Main Point III is the strongest argument of the three, putting it last builds up to a climax.

Cause/Effect Pattern

If the specific purpose mentions words such as “causes,” “origins,” “roots of,” “foundations,” “basis,” “grounds,” or “source,” it is a causal order; if it mentions words such as “effects,” “results,” “outcomes,” “consequences,” or “products,” it is effect order. If it mentions both, it would of course be cause/effect order. This example shows a cause/effect pattern:

Specific Purpose: To explain to my classmates the causes and effects of schizophrenia.

  1. Schizophrenia has genetic, social, and environmental causes.
  2. Schizophrenia has educational, relational, and medical effects.

It should be noted, however, that a specific purpose like this example is very broad and probably not practical for your class speeches; it would be better to focus on just causes or effects, or even just one type of cause (such as genetic causes of schizophrenia) or one type of effect (relational or social). These two examples show a speech that deals with causes only and effects only, respectively.

Specific Purpose: To explain to my fellow Biology 1107 students the origin of the West Nile Virus epidemic in the U.S.

  1. The West Nile Virus came from a strain in a certain part of Africa.
  2. The West Nile Virus resulted from mosquitoes being imported through fruits.
  3. The West Nile Virus became more prominent due to floods in the Southeast.

Specific Purpose: To describe to my classmates the effects of a diagnosis of autism on a child’s life.

  1. An autism diagnosis will affect the child’s educational plan.
  2. An autism diagnosis will affect the child’s social existence.
  3. An autism diagnosis will affect the child’s family relationships.

Problem-Solution Pattern

The problem-solution pattern will be explored in more depth in the chapter on Persuasive Speaking because that is where it is used the most. Then, we will see that there are variations on it. The principle behind problem-solution pattern is that if you explain a problem to an audience, you should not leave them hanging without solutions. Problems are discussed for understanding and to do something about them.

Additionally, when you want to persuade someone to act, the first reason is usually that something is wrong! Even if you wanted your friends to go out to get some dinner, and they have recently eaten, you will probably be less successful because there is no problem for them—they are not hungry. Then you would have to come up with a new problem, such as you will miss their presence, which they may or may not see as a problem for them.

In another real-life example, let’s say you want the members of the school board to provide more funds for music at the three local high schools in your county. What is missing because music or arts are not funded? What is the problem?

Specific Purpose: To persuade the members of the school board to take action to support the music program at the school.

  1. There is a problem with eliminating extracurricular music programs in high schools.
    1. Students who do not have extracurricular music in their lives have lower SAT scores.
    2. Schools that do not have extracurricular music programs have more gang violence and juvenile delinquency.
  2. The solution is to provide $200,000 in the budget to sustain extracurricular music in our high schools.
    1. $120,000 would go to bands.
    2. $80,000 would go to choral programs.

Of course, this is a simple outline and you would need to provide evidence to support the arguments, but it shows how problem-solution works. Psychologically, it makes more sense to use problem-solution rather than solution-problem. The audience will be more motivated to listen if you address needs, deficiencies, or problems in their lives rather than giving them solutions first.

Problem-Cause-Solution Pattern

A variation of the problem-solution pattern, and one that sometimes requires more in-depth exploration of an issue, is the “problem-cause-solution” pattern. If you were giving a speech on future extinction of certain animal species, it would be insufficient to just explain that numbers of species are about to become extinct. Your second point would logically have to explain the cause behind this happening. Is it due to climate change, some type of pollution, encroachment on habitats, disease, or some other reason? In many cases, you can’t really solve a problem without first identifying what caused the problem. This is similar to the organizational pattern called Monroe’s Motivated Sequence (German, Gronbeck, Ehninger & Monroe, 2012), which will be fully explained in Chapter 13. The Monroe’s Motivated Sequence requires a discussion of cause to create a logical speech.

Specific Purpose: To persuade my audience that age to obtain a driver’s license in the state of Georgia should be raised to 18.

  1. There is a problem in this country with young drivers getting into serious automobile accidents leading to many preventable deaths.
  2. One of the primary causes of this is younger drivers’ inability to remain focused and make good decisions due to incomplete brain development.
  3. One solution that will help reduce the number of young drivers involved in accidents would be to raise the age for obtaining a diver’s license to 18.

Some Additional Principles of Organization

It is possible that you may use more than one of these organizational patterns within a single speech. For example, the main points of your speech could be one organizational pattern and the subpoints a different one. In the spatial example above about the Native American nations of Georgia, the subpoints might be chronological (emphasizing their development over time), or they could be topical (explaining aspects of their culture).

You should also note that in all of the examples to this point (which have been kept simple for the purpose of explanation), each main point is relatively equal in emphasis; therefore, the time spent on each should be equal as well. While you are not obliged to spend exactly the same amount of time on each main point, the time spent (and the importance of the main point) should be about the same. You would not want your first Main Point to be 30 seconds long, the second one to be 90 seconds, and the third 3 minutes. For example:

Specific Purpose: To explain to my classmates the rules of baseball.

  1. Baseball has rules about equipment.
  2. Baseball has rules about numbers of players.
  3. Baseball has rules about play.

Main Point II is not really equal in importance to the other two. There is a great deal you could say about the equipment and even more about the rules of play, but the number of players would take you about ten seconds to say. If Main Point II were “Baseball has rules about the positions on the field,” that would make more sense and be closer in level of importance to the other two.

To give another example, let’s say you want to give a commemorative (or tribute) speech about a local veteran whom you admire.

  1. James Owens is an admirable person because he earned the Silver Star in the Korean War.
  2. James Owens is an admirable person because he served our community as a councilman for 25 years.
  3. James Owens is an admirable person because he rescued five puppies who were abandoned in his backyard.

Although Main Point III is a good thing to do, it’s really not equal to Main Points I and II in importance or in the amount of time you would need to spend on it.

Earlier in the chapter, we said that organizing a speech involves grouping, labeling, and ordering. Let’s address labeling here. You will also notice that in most of the examples so far, the main points are phrased using a similar sentence structure. For example, “The first chamber in the blood flow is…” “The second chamber in the blood flow is…” This simple repetition of sentence structure is called parallelism, a technique useful for speakers and helpful for the audience in remembering information. It is not absolutely necessary to use it and will not always be relevant, but parallelism should be used when appropriate and effective.

In relation to the way each main point is written, notice that they are full grammatical sentences, although sometimes short and simple. For purposes of preparation, this is a good habit, and your instructor will probably require you to write your main points in full sentences. Your instructor may also expect you to write your subpoints in complete sentences as well, but he or she will discuss that with you. There are examples of the different versions of full sentence outlines provided at the ends of some chapters.

Finally, in the way you phrase the main points, be sure they are adequate labeled and clearly explain your content. Students are often tempted to write main points as directions to themselves, “Talking about the health department” or “Mention the solution.” This is not helpful for you, nor will your instructor be able to tell what you mean by those phrases. “The health department provides many services for low-income residents” says something we can all understand.


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Exploring Communication in the Real World Copyright © 2020 by Chris Miller is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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