The category organizational structure helps break large projects into manageable units; for this reason, this structure is frequently used in proposals and reports. The category organizational structure is also appropriate for matter-of-fact short narratives, such as announcements and E-mails.
Proposals typically use a category organizational structure to make it easy for readers to locate specific units of information.
Michelle, for instance, wrote a grant request that ran more than fifty pages. "It was a huge endeavor. The museum that I work for wanted to install new lighting, and I wrote a proposal to a private foundation that provides funds for infrastructure improvements. I chose the category organizational structure as a way of making the huge amount of information manageable.
"I ended up with six categories:
1. our attendance figures
2. testimonials from curators about the importance of lighting
3. an engineering report about fine art lighting standards
4. an electrician's cost estimates
5. background information about the museum and how we serve the community
6. copies of legal documents proving our nonprofit status
"As I wrote the proposal, I kept discovering new categories. Having selected the category organizational structure, I was able to easily add new categories, combine some closely related ones, and eliminate some that weren't relevant. I can't imagine how much more difficult it would have been if I had been trying to track and revise one fifty-page unit instead of the smaller, easy-to-identify units. "We got the money, by the way!"
The category organizational structure also works well in reports. Using this structure ensures that each section is short and focused, two standards of excellence in business writing.
Karl's boss expected each of his direct subordinates to write a monthly activity report. Karl explained that he used to use a straight narrative format. "It was sort of chronological in that I used my calendar to help me remember what I did, but it was a mishmash. On the third of the month, for example, I might have reviewed the closing financials of the month before. That would tickle my memory that I worked on next year's capital budget during the last week of the month, and so I'd digress about that. The activity report was disorganized and hard to follow.
"Once I started using the category organizational structure, the entire process became more manageable. As a financial analyst, my work is pretty routine. So I was able to set categories and then simply update the report each month. It saved me hours of work. And the report was easier to read and more focused."
Simple announcements (of, say, a new product introduction or a promotion) often use a category organizational structure to highlight certain elements.
Thomas explained, "In the announcement of Dawn's promotion, I wanted to focus on her ability to bring people together. I structured the memo—which I sent as an E-mail attachment to all employees, the press, and key customers—using phrases that stressed her diplomatic skills as subheadings. Rather than simply list disciplines like supervisory and financial, for instance, I stressed the different aspects of her ability as a diplomat. The categories I included, and used as subheadings, were 'bridging differences,' 'forging alliances,' and 'building relationships.' Once I identified the categories, the announcement wrote itself."
Given that E-mails are usually shorter than other forms of communication, they usually feature only one category of content. Longer E-mails, however, can be divided into content categories.
Julie Ann explained that as a purchasing agent for an industrial belting company, she communicates with vendors via E-mail all the time. "What I've found most effective is listing my questions and asking that they respond to them one by one. In other words, I set the categories for their responses."
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