Chapter 3: Preparing for Your First Speech

15 Patterns of Organization: Informative Speeches

At this point, then, you should see how much your audience needs organization. You also know that as you do research, you will group together similar pieces of information from different sources in your research. As you group your research information, you will want to make sure that your content is adhering to your specific purpose statement and will look for ways that your information can be grouped together into categories.At this point we will address the third step of organization, ordering, and return to labeling later. However, in actually composing your speech, you would want to be sure that you name or label your groups of ideas and content clearly for yourself and then even more clearly for your audience. Labeling is an iterative process, which means you may “tweak” how you label your main points for clarity as you progress in the speech.

Interestingly, there are some standard ways of organizing these categories, which are called “patterns of organization.” In each of the examples below, you will see how the specific purpose gives shape to the organization of the speech and how each one exemplifies one of the six main organizational patterns. In each example, only the three to five main sections or “points” (Roman numerals) are given, without the other essential parts of the outline.

Please note that these are simple, basic outlines for example purposes, and your instructor will, of course, expect much more content from the outlines you submit for class.


Specific Purpose: To describe to my classmates the four stages of rehabilitation in addiction recovery.

I.          The first stage is acknowledging the problem and entering treatment.

II.       The second stage is early abstinence, a difficult period in the rehabilitation facility.

III.    The third stage is maintaining abstinence after release from the rehab facility.

IV.     The fourth stage is advanced recovery after a period of several years.

The example above uses what is termed the chronological pattern of organization. Chronological always refers to time order. Since the specific purpose is about stages, it is necessary to put the four stages in the right order. It would make no sense to put the fourth stage second and the third stage first. However, chronological time can be long or short. If you were giving a speech about the history of the Civil Rights Movement, that period would cover several decades; if you were giving a speech about the process of changing the oil in a car, that process takes less than an hour. The pro- cess described in the speech example above would also be long-term, that is, one taking several months or years. The commonality is the order of the information.

In addition, chronological speeches that refer to processes can be given for two reasons. First, they can be for understanding. The speech about recovery is to explain what happens in the addiction recovery process, but

the actual process may never really happen to the audience members. That understanding may also lead them to more empathy for someone in recovery. Second, chronological or process speeches can be for action and instruction. For a speech about changing the oil in a car, your purpose is that the audience could actually change the oil in their cars after listening to the speech.

One of the problems with chronological speeches is, as mentioned before, that you would not want just a list of activities. It is important to “chunk” the information into three to five groups so that the audience has a frame- work. For example, in a speech about the history of the Civil Rights Movement, your “grouping” or “chunking” might be:

I.          The movement saw African-Americans struggling for legal recognition before the Brown v. Board of Education decision.

II.       The movement was galvanized and motivated by the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

III.    The movement saw its goals met in the Civil Rights Act of 1965. It would be easy in the case of the Civil Rights Movement to list the many events that happened over more than two decades, but that could be overwhelming for the audience. In this outline, the audience is focused on the three events that pushed it forward, rather than the persons involved in the movement. You could give a speech with a focus on people, but it would be different and probably less chronological and more topical (see below).

We should say here that, realistically, the example given above is still too broad. It would be useful, perhaps, for an audience with almost no knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement, but too basic and not really informative for other audiences. Just one of the Roman numeral points would probably be a more specific focus.


You can see that chronological is a highly-used organizational structure, since one of the ways our minds work is through time-orientation—past, present, future. Another common thought process is movement in space or direction, which is called the spatial pattern. For example:

Specific Purpose: To explain to my classmates the three regional cooking styles of Italy.

I.          In the mountainous region of the North, the food emphasizes cheese and meat.

II.       In the middle region of Tuscany, the cuisine emphasizes grains and olives.

III.    In the southern region and Sicily, the diet is based on fish and sea- food.

In this example, the content is moving from northern to southern Italy, as the word “regional” would indicate. Here is a good place to note

that grouping or “chunking” in a speech helps simplicity, and to meet the principle of KISS (Keep It Simple, Speaker). If you were to actually study Italian cooking in depth, sources will say there are twenty regions. But “covering” twenty regions in a speech is not practical, and while the regions would be distinct for a “foodie” or connoisseur of Italian cooking, for a beginner or general audience, three is a good place to start. You could at the end of the speech note that more in-depth study would show the twenty regions, but that in your speech you have used three regions to show the similarities of the twenty regions rather than the small differences.

For a more localized example:

Specific Purpose: To explain to my classmates the layout of the White House.

I.          The East Wing includes the entrance ways and offices for the First Lady.

II.       The most well-known part of the White House is the West Wing.

III.    The residential part of the White House is on the second floor. (The emphasis here is the movement a tour would go through.)

For an even more localized example:

Specific Purpose: To describe to my Anatomy and Physiology class the three layers of the human skin.

I.          The outer layer is the epidermis, which is the outermost barrier of protection.

II.       The second layer beneath is the dermis.

III.    The third layer closest to the bone is the hypodermis, made of fat and connective tissue.

The key to spatial organization is to be logical in progression rather than jumping around, as in this example:

I.          The Native Americans of Middle Georgia were primarily the Creek nation.

II.       The Native Americans of North Georgia were of the Cherokee tribe nation.

III.    The Native Americans of South Georgia were mostly of the Hitchiti and Oconee tribes.

It makes more sense to start at the top (north) of the state and move down (south) or start at the bottom and move up rather than randomly discuss unconnected areas.

Topical/Parts of the Whole

The topical organizational pattern is probably the most all-purpose in that many speech topics could use it. Many subjects will have main points that naturally divide into “types of,” “kinds of,” “sorts of,” or “categories of.” Other subjects naturally divide into “parts of the whole.” However, as mentioned previously, you want to keep your categories simple, clear, dis- tinct, and at five or fewer.

Specific Purpose: To explain to my freshmen students the concept of SMART goals.

I.           SMART goals are specific and clear.

II.        SMART goals are measurable.

III.     SMART goals are attainable or achievable.

IV.     SMART goals are relevant and worth doing.

V.         SMART goals are time-bound and doable within a time period. Specific Purpose: To explain the four characteristics of quality diamonds.

I.          Valuable diamonds have the characteristic of cut.

II.       Valuable diamonds have the characteristic of carat.

III.    Valuable diamonds have the characteristic of color.

IV.    Valuable diamonds have the characteristic of clarity.

Specific Purpose: To describe to my audience the four main chambers of a human heart.

I.          The first chamber in the blood flow is the right atrium.

II.       The second chamber in the blood flow is the right ventricle.

III.    The third chamber in the blood flow is the left atrium.

IV.     The fourth chamber in the blood flow and then out to the body is the left ventricle.

At this point in discussing organizational patterns and looking at these examples, two points should be made about them and about speech organization in general.

First, you might look at the example about the chambers of the heart and say, “But couldn’t that be chronological, too, since that’s the order of the blood flow procedure?” Yes, it could. There will be times when a specific purpose could work with two different organizational patterns. In this case, it’s just a matter of emphasis. This speech is emphasizing the anatomy of the heart; if the speech’s specific purpose were “To explain to my class- mates the flow of blood through the chambers of the heart,” the organizational pattern would be chronological but very similar. However, since the blood goes to the lungs to be oxygenated before coming back to the left atrium, that might alter the pattern some.

Another principle of organization to think about when using topical organization is “climax” organization. That means putting your strongest argument or most important point last when applicable. For example:

Specific purpose: To defend before my classmates the proposition that capital punishment should be abolished in the United States.

I.          Capital punishment does not save money for the justice system.

II.       Capital punishment does not deter crime in the United States historically.

III.    Capital punishment has resulted in many unjust executions.

In most people’s minds, “unjust executions” is a bigger reason to end a practice than the cost, since an unjust execution means the loss of an innocent life and a violation of our principles. If you believe Main Point III is the strongest argument of the three, putting it last builds up to a climax.


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