Professional and Technical Writing/Design/Document Organization

Document Organization


Organization in a professional business or career document is essential both to the writer as well as the reader. Each document has standards for specific organization that are universally accepted. Be careful to follow the accepted layout when writing a document.

There are different styles that can be used to fit specific situations. Below are possible techniques:



On the job, you may have to write about a certain set of facts. To organize these facts, you can use a strategy called classification. In classification, you arrange your material into groups of related items that satisfy the following criteria:

  • Every item has a place in one group or another; every item fits.
  • Every item has only one place. If there are two places, the information becomes redundant. If it belongs in two places and is put in only one spot the information becomes difficult to find. Neither of these situations is desirable.
  • These groupings should be easy to navigate by readers. Items that will be used together should be grouped together.

Formal Classification

In formal classification, group items according to a principle of classification - that is, according to some observable characteristic that every item possesses. Usually, there will be several to choose from. To choose among these potential principles of classification, one must think about the way an audience would use the information. In classification, large groups can be organized into subgroups. There are two main guidelines for formal classification:

  • Choose a principle of classification that is suited to your readers and your purpose.
  • Use only one principle of classification.

Informal Classification

Informal classification can help you create a reader-centered communication when you need to organize information about a large number of items, however. You find it impossible or undesirable to classify them according to the kind of objective characteristic that is necessary for formal classification.

For example, Calvin needed to organize his analysis, requested by his employer, of advertisements in three trade journals for the heavy equipment industry. Calvin could have created a formal classification by grouping the ads according to an objective characteristic, such as their size or number of words used in them. Instead, he classified them according to the type of advertising appeal they made. "Type of advertising appeal" is not an objective characteristic. Defining an ad's appeal requires subjective interpretation and judgment. Calvin used this informal classification because it best matched his readers' goal, which was to plan the advertising strategies he would use later in the year when he began placing ads in the three journals.

Like formal classification, informal classification enables you to organize communications in a way that achieves the following goals:

  • Every item has only one place
  • The groupings are useful to your readers



In business, you will write comparisons periodically. Usually for one of the following reasons:

To help readers make a decision The workplace is a world of choices. People are constantly choosing among courses of action, competing products,and alternative strategies. To help them choose, employees often compare the options in writing.

To help readers understand research findings Much workplace research focuses on differences and similarities between two or more items or groups such as: people, animals, climates, and so on. To explain the findings of this kind of research, researchers organize their results as comparisons.

There are two patterns for organizing comparisons, divided and alternating. Both of these include the same content but arrange it in different ways. Consider the ways your readers will use your information to choose between the alternating or divided pattern. Because the alternating pattern is organized around the criteria, it is ideal when readers want to make point-by-point comparisons among alternatives. The divided pattern is well suited to situations where readers want to read all the information about each alternative in one place. Typically, this occurs when both the general nature and the details of each alternative can be described in short space. Whether you choose the alternating or divided pattern, you can usually assist your readers by incorporating two kinds of preliminary information:

Description of the criteria. This information allows readers to know from the start what the relevant points of comparison are.

Overview of the alternatives. This information provides readers with a general sense of what each alternative entails before they focus on the details provided.