Organizing Information

Organizing Information


This activity will simulate what happens when you gather a lot of information about a topic, and then begin organizing it into a logical, informative document. After completing this activity, you will see how an outline can emerge from a list of unorganized facts.

1. Read the following information :


You are a member of a team of specialists who work at the Earthquake Center at the University of California. Your team is responsible for writing the “Statement of Need” section of a proposal to request funds from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The object of the proposal is to conduct a 5 year, experimental study of the structural problems found in buildings and bridges after the 1970 Loma Prieta earthquake near Palo Alto. The study is specifically aimed at examining ways to strengthen structures using supporting columns.

Step 1: Get a sense of your audience

Primary: Members of the NSF staff who make the final decision on funding

Secondary: Reviewers who evaluate the proposal and recommend whether or not to fund it

Step 2: Determine your purpose and situation

Writers’ Purpose: To obtain funds for conducting research

Readers’ Purpose: To determine whether or not to fund the project

Situation: Studies associated with earthquakes are considered high priority

Step 3: Gather your information

During a collaborative debating session, your team compiled a list of information that should be included in the “Statement of Need” section. As the information is listed, some of the items, such as structural types, examples of structural problems, strengthening efforts, and research needs, fall into clusters.

As you can see, the list of information(attached) comprehensive, but disorganized.

Step 4: Categorize the information

Your team is ready to organize the information. During a session that included debate and compromise, your team put the information into related sections while constantly considering the purpose of the document. The team grouped information by using the following method:
•    Placed a B next to items related to background information
•    Placed a P next to items related to the problem
•    Placed an E next to items related to the experiment
•    Placed a C next to items related to the present conditions
During the discussion session, you had to unexpectedly leave to take an important phone call. When you returned your manager handed you the list of information with the items clustered under four headings, and said, “Here, please look at this list of organized items . The rest of us need to do some other work. I’d like you to decide on what pattern to use to organize this information, and to put the headings in the order that we should use in the final proposal. You can email each of us your results and then we’ll meet again to delegate who writes the different sections. Thanks.”

Step 5: Sequence the Information

Information should be sequenced in logical order, not necessarily the order in which the information happens to be listed. The pattern that you use is determined by your readers’ needs and reading behaviors, as well as certain genre conventions. Most information fits one of the following organizational patterns:

Pattern    Use    Purpose
Alphabetical    List names, develop glossaries, and indices    Provides readers with easy methods for quickly locating information
Chronological    Describe events, present a history, narrate a situation    Provides readers with background to understand events, trends
Analytical    List the parts of an object, concept, or event    Provides readers with an understanding of the parts of an object, concept, or event
Sequential    Instruct or describe something in which one object or activity logically precedes another    Provides readers with ability to use information, perform a function, or engage in an activity
Comparison / contrast    Compare two or more objects, concepts, or events. Often appears with one of the others.    Provides readers with alternatives for making decisions
Cause/effect    Explain the reason or the results of an occurrence. Often used in research and evaluation reports.    Helps readers understand reason for something
Most/least important / effective    Emphasize important information. Often used in correspondence. It is known as the inverted triangle, and is the basic organization of a news story.    Provides readers with important information.
Inductive / deductive    Present main organizing idea/purpose of document    Gives reader information immediately, leads reader to understand background/causes before presenting concept/request/proposal
Problem / solution    Describe a solution to a problem. Often used in proposals, feasibility studies.    Provides readers with information on solving a problem

2. Write to me the pattern name that you would choose to organize the proposal. Also, write to me your recommendation for the order of the four headings in the final proposal (i.e., Backgound, Problem, Experiment, and Present Conditions). I will then email to you my suggestions for the appropriate pattern, and order of the headings. NOTE: only needs to include 5 items: pattern name, and list of ordered headings.

This class activity of organization choice is your opinion, so do not worry that I am looking for a “right” answer here. I just want to familiarize you with different ways to organize information, and to show you how this kind of process can lead to a more developed outline (which I will also send to you!).

Hint: There may be more than one pattern that you can use. Think about the overall organization of the document in terms of its purpose, and also think about the internal organization of subsections of information.

OPTIONAL: Feel free to include in this email the name(s) of who you might like to work with in your collaborative group for the next assignment. If there is someone you know you would not like to work with, you can include that too – this will be confidential. I just like to give you some choice since I know group work carries its own set of logistical problems to overcome.

List of Information
•    5 years
•    What deformation and loads can columns sustain
•    How can we strengthen columns efficiently
•    If global stiffening elements are used, how can elements be added to columns to achieve the effect
•    Structural frames prior to 1970 are inadequate
•    Columns on structure are bad
•    Structures
o    Pre-seismic code building with no lateral force resisting system
o    Pre-seismic code building with effective lateral force resisting system
o    Moment frame buildings designed for lateral forces with weak columns
o    Shear wall buildings with inadequate strength
•    Loma Prieta earthquake illustrates problem especially in elevated structures
o    Examples: Cypress Viaduct, Central Freeway, Southern Freeway
o    Hospital in Palo Alto
o    Hotel in downtown Santa Cruz
•    Column failures due to lateral and vertical load
•    Structures typical of this problem prevalent in state
o    High occupancy in these structures
•    To strengthen existing columns now
o    Concrete infills or external buttresses
o    Heavy and difficult installation
o    Steel bracings
•    Need to understand effectiveness of steel bracing elements for retrofitting existing structures
•    Need to understand behavior or retrofit on shaking structures
•    Project experimental
•    Review literature and experience on similar problems
•    Test isolated columns
•    Static test of structures
•    Dynamic test of structures
•    Use researchers from university and professional practice together since research is applied