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When it comes to writing an essay, topical organization means describing the subject of your paper one topic at a time. If an essay assignment calls for describing something-an animal, a gadget, an event, or even a process-you can use topical organization. Your first step is to divide your subject into small parts (subtopics) and then define each one.
Essays That Use Topical Organization
There are four types of essays that use topical organization:
Also called an exploring essay, the exploratory essay allows the writer to examine an idea or experience, without backing up a claim or supporting a thesis. This structure is perfect for science essays that explore the characteristics of an organism.
As the name implies, in a compare-and-contrast essay, the writer compares and contrasts two different things. English class essays that compare two short stories can be written topic by topic.
To use an expository essay format, the writer explains something with facts, as opposed to using opinion. For example, you could use a topical essay to explain why the South developed an agrarian-based economy before the Civil War, detailing one characteristic at a time that led to this development.
In a descriptive essay, the writer literally describes something. You could describe any object one part at a time; for example, when writing about yourself, you could start with your facial features and move on to hands and feet.
Setting Up a Topical Essay
Once you've chosen or been assigned an essay topic, the process is as simple as deciding on the correct format. For example, for a compare-and-contrast essay, you might examine Apple versus Microsoft.
For this kind of essay, you could either describe one subject completely and move on to the next or describe and compare small parts of each subject piece by piece. So, you might fully describe Apple Computers-its history, the cost of its products, and its intended market, for example-and then compare those same items for Microsoft Corp.
Or, you could compare "Star Wars" and "Star Trek" movies film by film or era by era (such as the original "Star Trek" films in the late 1970s and 1980s versus the early "Star Wars" films for the same period). You would then move on to the next two films or eras to compare and contrast.
For an expository essay, you could explain why you especially enjoy a particular teacher. For your subtopics, you would list the virtuous qualities of the teacher and why you admire those qualities. You're essentially listing and explaining items (the teacher's features) without backing up your claim or supporting a thesis. Your subtopics-the teacher's good qualities-are simply your opinions, but you are organizing them into a topical essay format.
You could use a descriptive essay format, for example, for an overall topic that has many interesting features. For example, if you were to write about a car company you would break up the subject by describing its parts, including:
- The engineering section: where the cars are designed
- The procurement department: the section where the company buys materials
- The assembly line: where the cars are actually assembled
You might even break up the assembly line into further subtopics, such as the initial assembly of the body; the insertion of the tires, mirrors, windshields, and other parts; the location where the cars are painted; and the department that ships the cars to dealers.
For this, and other types, of topical essays, breaking the task into parts-just as you could break down a car into its component parts-makes writing an essay immeasurably easier.