You might be scratching your head as you try to arrange your topics before starting to write, but you only have five ways to organize information.
Many business communications professionals don’t invest much time, if any, in organizing. They assume that as long as all the information is in there somewhere, that’s good enough. Or perhaps the idea of organizing doesn’t even occur to them, or they simply don’t want to take the time. But organizing topics makes a difference in how the reader processes the information.
Richard Saul Wurman, an architect, realized in the 1980s that some of the challenges architects face in designing buildings are similar to those a writer faces in designing how information will look on a page. He referred to it as “information architecture.”
Wurman determined that while we have an unlimited amount of data at our disposal, there are only five ways to organize information: by category, time, location, alphabet, or continuum, which someone else changed to “hierarchy” and coined the acronym “LATCH.” Almost anything you can think of is arranged within one of these frameworks: dictionaries, memos, reports, directories, team rankings, menus, and even warehouse inventories.
Let’s say you are doing a public relations report on how your company’s different sites have been performing. Here are ways you could organize it.
- Location – Discuss operations at one location, then another.
- Alphabet – Talk about the sites in an alphabetical order, by city name.
- Time – Arrange the information in the order that the company opened each location. Establish a timeline.
- Category – Companies that make products would organize information this way, devoting a few paragraphs to each product, then moving on to another. Folders in a file cabinet are organized this way. A category can be a type, a model, an issue.
- Hierarchy – This is most-least important, largest to smallest, highest to lowest. Financial results (most-least). College sports rankings. When you are applying a value or a certain significance to something.
Organizing information makes it easier for you to express your ideas clearly, and it is critical to ensuring that the reader stays with us. Readers will forgive a comma that’s out of place or a usage mistake, but they don’t tolerate disorganization because they don’t have the patience. And it isn’t their job.
Ken O’Quinn is a professional writing coach and former Associated Press writer who conducts corporate workshops on business writing, persuasive writing, and corporate communications writing. He is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business Letters (McGraw-Hill), which is available here at Amazon.com.