Dr. Judith M. Newman

Graphic Organizers

Graphic organizers are visual illustrations of verbal or written statements. One common trait found among graphic organizers is that they show the order and completeness of a writer’s thought process. Many graphic organizers show different aspects of an issue or problem—in close and also the big picture. Since many graphic organizers use short words or phrases, they are ideal for many types of writing and reading tasks.

Graphic organizers show at a glance the key elements of the whole and their relationships. They are very useful for sorting out the structure of an argument or the architecture of a piece of writing. They represent a handy tool when your read—you can quickly sketch an outline of a piece.

They’re helpful if you’re reading for someone else, they focus you directly on questions about content. They are useful at various points during your own writing, most particularly when you’ve just finished a draft, to check that you’ve included all the elements you need to make your arguments clear.

Here are the seven structural patterns commonly used in technical writing showing their “generic” graphic forms.


Pattern Clues to Pattern Strategies Suggested Diagram


  • introductory statement contains a number word or words like "many" or "several"
  • subtopics signalled by "first", "second", "third", "more", "also", etc.
  1. look for topic
  2. look for sub-topics
  3. organize details related to topics
  • introductory question
  • answer signalled by words like "first", "second", "one", "another"
  1. look for question
  2. note words that signal answers
  3. isolate answer
 General    Statement/
  • most common pattern
  • offers generalization followed by supporting examples
  1. look for generalization
  2. look for supporting specifics

 Cause /  Effect
  • causes leading to effects
  • words like "cause", "reasons for", "first", "second", "finally", etc.
  1. look for effect
  2. look for cause (must answer "why" about the effect)

  • steps in a process
  • chronology
  • events leading to a specific outcome
  1. look for introduction which sets purpose and lists steps to follow
  2. look for steps
  3. look for order of steps
  4. look for steps in sequence
  5. separate background information from steps
  6. look for meaning of sequence

 Comparison/  Contrast
  • always more than one topic
  • uses cues: "in the same way", "on the other hand", "although", "yet", "however", "even though"


 Problem  Statement
  • lays out details of a problem
  1. look for the problem
  2. look for significant details