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an example of parallel structure

College Prep Writing

Writing Organization Patterns

Styles, Modes, and Patterns

This section has nothing to do with fashion statements. Styles, modes, and patterns refer here to ways of organizing a piece of writing.

The purpose of writing organization styles is to provide clarity to nonfiction. The organization styles or rhetorical modes or patterns are commonly listed as nine: examples (illustration), narrative, process, argument (opinion), cause and effect, compare and contrast, description, definition, and classification.

Two of the more common patterns are the examples pattern, the chronological writing style found in journalism, and the argument pattern, the basic organization style of opinion pieces. In some lists of writing organization patterns, argument is omitted because it is very similar to cause and effect, and because argument is invariably a combination of several patterns. Some lists also add division to the nine modes as classification-division.


Analysis essays, generally a combination of rhetorical styles, are common assignments in college classes. Analytical writing combines features of argument and examples (or illustration) styles, but comparison and contrast, cause and effect, and other patterns might just as likely be involved. While the argument organization pattern may be a part of analysis, analytical writing is not persuasion but interpretation. An analytical essay offers observations that are based on a writer's experience; it does not offer opinions that are one-sided or ideologically motivated.

An analysis essay is often assigned in literature and art classes when a teacher wants students to critically examine a poem or a work of art. Interpreting a work is a subjective matter that involves opinion as well as experience, and one writer's interpretation of the meaning of a poem may be different from another's based on the writer's experience. In assigning analytical writing, a teacher wants the student to demonstrate critical thinking; the purpose of an analytical assignment is not to submit a summary or a description of a work.

Because an analysis essay frequently contains elements of more than one organization pattern, it is important to be familiar with all of the rhetorical modes or styles before writing an analysis essay. In fact, it is very difficult to write in a way that relies solely on one of the nine rhetorical organization patterns. It is difficult to imagine an essay based merely on description, for example, because a main idea statement invariably suggests that examples or causes will be a part of the essay.

The following sample paragraphs illustrate the nine writing patterns, and all are based on the same broad topic, "purchasing a house," which has been narrowed in slightly different ways with main ideas reflecting each of the nine organization patterns. Notice that the organization style for each paragraph is implicit in the main idea sentence of each paragraph. The main point or main idea of each paragraph, reflecting the organization pattern, is underlined. The supporting points are numbered.

Samples of Nine Writing Organization Patterns

Examples pattern

"The Big Buy" illustrates the examples organization pattern. Writing organized with this pattern comprises examples, lists of facts, or cases in point. The examples pattern is sometimes referred to as exemplification, illustration, or analysis.


Narrative pattern

An example of a narrative paragraph is a story or a news article that describes an event chronologically. The first person pronoun is often used in narrative writing but not exclusively; news items, for example, invariably involve third person subjects.


Process pattern

Instructions on how to accomplish something or a description of how something is done is process writing. Like narrative writing, process writing is organized in chronological order.


Argument pattern

An argumentative essay is also referred to as persuasion or opinion and is effort to sway an audience to the writer's conviction. The argument organization style is similar to cause and effect: The opinion is analogous to the effect, and the support points for the opinion are analogous to the causes in a cause and effect essay.


Cause and effect pattern

In the cause-and-effect writing organization pattern, the focus is on either a cause or an effect. When a main idea involves a cause, the major support points relate the effects of the cause. Likewise, when a main idea involves an effect, the major support points are reasons or causes for the effect.

Cause and Effect

Compare and contrast pattern

Strictly speaking, to compare two things means to discuss their similarities, and to contrast two things means to discuss differences. In casual use, we often use compare for both of these purposes, but in college writing it is good to remember the distinction between the two terms.

Compare and Contrast

When an essay focuses on similarities, however, it is rhetorically effective to mention some differences, and this rhetorical device applies as well to an essay that focuses on differences— acknowledgment of similarities strengthens the writers point of view, giving more authority to the writer's main idea.

Description pattern

The description organization pattern is quite straight forward. A descriptive essay describes spatial relationships between animate or inanimate objects. Description is usually combined with one or more other organization styles, but the example below is purely descriptive.


Definition pattern

Definitions in a dictionary are usually limited to strict interpretations in a single sentence or a phrase or two. A paragraph in the definition organization style provides an extended definition and often a reason for the definition. In the paragraph below, the writer corrects a misconception of the word home.


Classification pattern

The classification writing pattern assigns categories. This organization style has elements of definition and compare-and-contrast.