At the beginning of the chapter, I mentioned that one reason writers put the main point last is to reenact how they learned something. In fact, I think that's probably the most common reason of all. Writers simply use the same order on paper in which events actually occurred.
Suppose, for example, you've been spending the last few days ordering a new printer for your office. Your boss says to you, "How about sending me a memo and letting me know where things stand." You might be tempted to organize your memo by chronology—the way things happened:
On July 7, you asked me to order a color printer for our office. On that same day, I contacted Cameron Melton (our computer expert) and began coordinating our request with him. Cameron told me that we have the funds and that the kind of printer we want is on the authorized list. Therefore, Cameron gave us permission to make the buy.
On July 9,1 called the printer company and found out the exact price ($3,799). Later that day, I contacted Laura in purchasing. Together, Laura and I filled out the request for the printer.
On July 11, Mackenzie okayed the order and sent it to the printer company.
On July 14, I confirmed that the printer company received our order. The salesperson I spoke with said we will have the printer by 9:30 a.m. tomorrow.
Takes forever to get to the bottom line, doesn't it? You can see, though, that the writer simply followed the chronology of what happened, tracking the purchase step by step for the boss.
Writers are often tempted by chronological order. But what does the boss really want to know? Certainly not a blow-by-blow account of the process. Remember, the request was this: "Let me know where things stand." Keeping that in mind, let's try a different start:
We'll be getting our color printer by 9:30 a.m. tomorrow. It will cost $3,799.
Approval was simple: Cameron Melton (our computer expert) authorized it quickly. Laura (in purchasing) was very helpful preparing the order. Jason okayed the order and sent it out without incident.
Notice that the second memo gets right to the point: the printer is coming tomorrow. Notice also that the memo is much shorter. That often happens. When you begin with your main point, you're much less likely to put in anything irrelevant. In fact, you might not even need the second paragraph.
So starting with the main point helps keep your reader on track—and you (the writer), too.
You'll learn more about organization in these chapters:
• Chapter 10, "Executive summary"
Now let's look at the last of the three parts of plain English writing: layout.
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