Organizing Concepts
for the Humanities:

If you've ever written a paragraph or essay, you know that one of the most difficult stages of the writing process is organizing all of your notes and examples into a coherent outline. The following typologies are possible ways to create order out of chaos! They are different ways to organize your information into groups of like-minded ideas, which in turn can become sections in paragraphs or body paragraphs within an essay.

1. Thematic Typologies

  • A common way of organizing your examples is according to thematic typologies. Here are the most common:
    1. Politics (means of resolving conflict: government, law, military, ideologies, social movements, etc.)
    2. Economics (means of meeting material needs through production and distribution: money, ownership, wealth, income etc.)
    3. Culture (human expression: arts, media, language, beliefs, philosophy, religion, etc.)
    4. Technology (machinery, tools, equipment, organizing ideas, etc.)
    5. Society (group structure & interaction: class, race, ethnicity, caste, etc.)
      • "Society" is often used as a general term that incorporates #1-4 and #5; we will use the narrower, sociological definition above.

2. Geographical

  • Another useful typology is geography. Sometimes you may wish to analyze a topic by comparing it from one country or region to the next.

3. Pro/Con (or similarities & differences)

  • You may wish to compare or evaluate two or more concepts (e.g. A and B);if this is so, then you could:
    1. argue that one idea is better than the other (e.g., A is better than B).
    2. demonstrate that the similarities of A and B are more significant than the differences (or vice versa).
  • The key in both cases is that your written response has to incorporate two or more conflicting ideas or issues. You have to be careful that you don't contradict yourself.
  • Also beware of a golden rule of formal writing: the pro-thesis idea(s), such as "A" or the similarities in the above examples, should always go at the end of the body just before the conclusion.
  • Transitional phrases help make the movement from one idea to another much smoother, so use them!

4. Chronological

  • Sometimes it makes sense to explain an event by describing the sequence in which the events occur.
  • One advantage of explaining things chronologically is that it better explains what are the causes and effects of an event.
  • The best way to analyze an event chronologically is to divide up your response into three sections:

    • 1. Causes
      • What are the long and short-range causes of the event?
    • 2. Sequence of Events
      • What was the actual sequence of events, from the moment it was triggered to the moment it was concluded?
      • Try to focus on only the major events; don't get bogged down in detail.
    • 3. Outcomes (short and long-range)
      • Describe what resulted from the event. Were there immediate results? Were there any long-lasting results?

You may wish to mix these typologies. Thus, if you organize an essay thematically, you could still explain each example within a typology in a chronological fashion.