Arguments and Information

6 Organizing and Outlining

Learning Objectives

  • Explain the process of grouping information
  • Introduce organizational patterns
  • Describe outlining best practices
  • Identify strategies for effective introduction and conclusions

Selecting and constructing an advocacy can be tough. But as we’ve discussed, a well-reasoned, researched, and constructed argument is key to effectively crafting and conveying information. The process, however, doesn’t stop there. The next step is determining how to organize and outline that information so that the audience can follow along.

Organizing information and reflecting on the best way to communicate an idea isn’t unique to a public speech; we do it all the time in private. Consider the following scenario:

Two friends – Anne and Stevie – have been dealing with interpersonal conflict. They can’t get along. Stevie decides that it’s time to sit down and tell Anne how they’re feeling, but first, she jots some notes. “Where to start?” she thinks, and tries to consider how she wants to breach the topic. “From the first time I was upset?” “Should I talk generally about the main 2 issues that keep bothering me?” How do I start?”

Stevie is trying to process how to organize the information that she’ll present to Anne – the main audience member. She’s also processing the best way to start – or to introduce – that information to her friend, and outlining key ideas that she wants to remember.

The same is true for preparing arguments in a speech. Having your information in a well-organized manner can make or break audience understanding of your content. In this chapter, we discuss ways to effectively categorize your information that will a) support your thesis statement, and b) increase audience comprehension of that information. To accomplish these tasks, we will introduce different organizational patterns, tips for outlining, and strategies for crafting your introduction and conclusion. Before you can select an organizational pattern, you should first work to group your information.

Grouping

Have you ever organized a garage sale? The first step, before putting up signs or pricing items, is to go through your closets and garage and create “piles” of items that you want to sell: children’s items, tools, kitchen items, furniture, trash, etc. Researchers have found that “chunking” information, that is, the way it is grouped, is vital to audience understanding, learning, and retention of information (Beighly, 1954; Bodeia, Powers, & Fitch-Hauser, 2006; Daniels & Whitman, 1981).

As we listen, we have limits as to how many categories of information we can keep in mind. In public speaking, use approximately 3 categories to group your information. 2-3 main points – or groups – is safe territory, and you should avoiding having more than 5 main points for an audience to track.

“How does this work in practice?” you may be asking. “How do I group information to find my categories?”

Use your research and your brainstorming tactics! As you research, look at the articles and websites you read and say, “That information relates to what I read over here” and, “That statistic fits under the idea of . . .” You are looking for similarities and patterns. Think back to the yard sle example – you would group according to customer interest and the purpose of each item. As you learn more about your topic and expand your expertise, the patterns and groups will become clearer.

Once you locate a pattern, that information can likely be grouped into your speech’s main points. Return to your thesis statement and determine what groups are more suitable to support your specific purpose. If you continue to find more groups, you may want to limit and narrow your topic down further.

Finally, because your audience will understand you better and perceive you as organized, you will gain more credibility as a speaker if you are organized, assuming you also have credible information and acceptable delivery (Slagell, 2013; Sharp & McClung, 1966).

Pro-Tip: Groups Help Your Writing! Yun, Costantini, and Billingsley (2012) found a side benefit to learning to be an organized public speaker: your writing skills will improve, specifically your organization and sentence structure. Working on your organization will increase your critical thinking skills all around.

After you group, the next step is determining what type of organizational pattern works best.

Patterns of Organization

At this point, you should see how much your audience needs organized ideas. You also know that as you do research, you will group together similar pieces of information from different sources. As you group your research information, you will want to make sure that your grouped content is adhering to your specific purpose statement.

Interestingly, there are some standard ways of organizing these categories, which are called “patterns of organization.” Our list isn’t exhaustive, but we provide insight on 5 organizational patterns with a few embedded examples. In each example, only the three to five main sections or “points” (Roman numerals) are given, without the other essential parts of the outline. But don’t worry—we’ll cover outlines later in this chapter.

Chronological

A chronological organizational pattern groups information based on time order or in a set chronology—first this occurred, then this, then this, then that. The use of a chronological pattern is appropriate when the argument needs to be traced linearly or for speeches that instructor or demonstrate. For a speech about creating a meaningful and memorable protest poster, providing the instructions in order will allow audience members to actively deploy that information after the speech.

One of the problems with chronological speeches is the tendency to create a long list of activities rather than categorizing the content. It is important to chunk the information into three to five groups so that the audience has a framework. For example, in a speech about the history of the Civil Rights Movement, your “grouping” or “chunking” might be:

  • The movement saw African-Americans struggling for legal recognition before the Brown v. Board of Education decision.
  • The movement was galvanized and motivated by the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
  • 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 decades, but that could be overwhelming for the audience. In this grouping of events, the audience is focused on the three events that pushed it forward.

Spatial

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.

  • In the mountainous region of the North, the food emphasizes cheese and meat.
  • In the middle region of Tuscany, the cuisine emphasizes grains and olives.
  • 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. 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, so research can help you limit and determine which regions would be more appropriate.

For a more localized application, consider this example:

Specific Purpose: To explain to my classmates the geographic layout of the Midwest Science March.

  • The main vein of the protest took place on the Kansas City Plaza.
  • Vendor booths promoting educational opportunities about science were grouped at Washington Square.
  • Counter-protesting was predominantly south of the river.

A spatial organizational pattern can assist audiences in visualizing your main points by grouping based on a spatial or geographic layout.

Topical/Categorical

The topical organizational pattern groups information into key categories. 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.” For example:

Specific purpose: To support 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.

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. In the example above, “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.

When using a topical pattern, you want to keep your categories simple, clear, and distinct by reducing repetition or blurriness between the groupings.

Cause/Effect Pattern

In a cause/effect pattern, the main points of a topic start with the cause, followed by the effect. If the specific purpose mentions words such as “causes,” “origins,” “roots of,” “foundations,” “basis,” “grounds,” or “source,” it is a causal order; if it mentions words such as “effects,” “results,” “outcomes,” “consequences,” or “products,” it is an effect order. If it mentions both, it would be cause/effect order. This example shows a cause/effect pattern:

Specific Purpose: To explain to my classmates the causes and effects of schizophrenia.

I.Schizophrenia has genetic, social, and environmental causes.

II.Schizophrenia has educational, relational, and medical effects.

This pattern can be helpful for an audience to understand how and/or why something has occurred. If your topic looks at a key problem, tracing how that problem originated may be worthwhile, even necessary, for an audience to track the outcomes.

Problem-Solution Pattern

The problem-solution pattern is closely related to cause/effect, but it also includes advocating for a key solution. This is a common organizational strategy used to persuade because a speaker is often asking the audience to address a problem with a concrete course of action. When you want to persuade someone to act, the first reason is usually that something is wrong!

We use a problem-solution pattern in everyday exchanges. If you and your friends were hungry (a problem), you’d invite them to dinner (the solution). However, if they’d recently eaten you might identify a secondary problem—you miss their company, for example.

Alternatively, let’s say that you want school board members to provide more funds for music at the three local high schools in your county. Ask yourself: What is missing because music or the arts are not funded? What is the problem? How is that a problem something that the school board should intervene to resolve? How does funding those programs resolve the problems that you’ve identified? For example:

Specific Purpose: To persuade the members of the school board to take action to support the music program at the school.

  • There is a problem with eliminating extracurricular music programs in high schools.
  • Students who do not have extracurricular music in their lives have lower SAT scores.
  • Schools that do not have extracurricular music programs have more instances of community violence.
  • The solution is to provide $200,000 in the budget to sustain extra-curricular music in our high schools.
  • $120,000 would go to bands. This would be enough money to hire additional instructors and reserve after-school spaces.
  • $80,000 would go to choral programs.

Of course, this is a simple outline and you would need to provide evidence to support the arguments, but it shows how problem-solution works. Psychologically, it makes more sense to use problem-solution rather than solution-problem. The audience will be more motivated to listen if you address needs, deficiencies, or problems in their lives rather than giving them solutions first.

Outlining

After identifying an organizational pattern, an outline will assist you to compile information into that pattern. An outline provides a visual structure where you can compile information into a well-organized document. There are two primary types of outlines that we will discuss: preparation outlines and speaking outlines.

Preparation Outlines

Preparation outlines are comprehensive outlines that include all of the information in your speech. These are often full-sentences and include in-text citations and a reference page (if necessary). If someone were to read your outline, there should be enough depth to provide a skeleton of what will be accomplished.

Generally, we recommend starting from this outline format:

Sample Outline Template 

I. Introduction

            a. Attention Getter
b. Credibility Statement
c. Relevance Statement
d. Thesis Statement
e. Preview

II. Main body

    1. First Main Point
      a. Evidence
      b. Warrant
    2. Second Main Point
      a. Evidence
      b. Warrant
    3. Third main Point
      a. Evidence
      b. Warrant
III. Conclusion    

a. Review of Main Points
b. Restate Thesis
c. Clincher 

This is just a start, and each main point may have more than one piece of evidence, for example.

Like we mentioned, an outline is a visual structure, and it can aid you in determining where you need more or less information. For example, if you work on a problem/solution speech, your outline may visually demonstrate that most of your research is located under the “problem” main point, signaling to you that more “solution” research is required. Outlines also assist in reminding speakers to warrant all of their claims.

You should think of the outline as the blueprint for your speech. It is not the speech—that is what comes out of your mouth in front of the audience. The outline helps you prepare and, as such, they are a living document that you can adjust, add, and delete. We recommend beginning to add information to an outline right away. You don’t, however, often speak from that outline. Instead, you’ll use a speaking outline.

Tips for Effective Outlining

  • Use consistent numbering;
  • Full sentences are your friend!
  • Use in-text citations for references to your research.
  • Generally, numbers should be in 2’s (if there’s a 1 , there should be a 2).
  • Make sure indentations are consistent and clear.
  • Follow your organizational pattern.
  • Revise. Revise. Revise.
Figure 6.1

Speaking Outlines

A speaking outline is a keyword outline used to deliver a speech – often extemporaneous. As we’ll discuss in our chapters on delivering an aesthetic experience, the notes that you use to speak can aid or hinder in an effective delivery. A keyword outline – which you’ll use to rehearse and deliver – will allow greater embodiment and engagement with the audience. As you practice, you will be able to summarize the full preparation outline down to more usable notes. In those notes, create a set of abbreviated notes for the actual delivery. The more materials you take up with you to speak, the more you will be tempted to look at them rather than have eye contact with the audience, reducing your overall engagement.

Your speaking notes should be in far fewer words than the preparation, arranged in key phrases, and readable for you. Your speaking outline should provide cues to yourself to “slow down,” “pause,” or “change slide.” Our biggest suggestion is to make the notes workable for you.

Finally, always double check that your speaking outline includes your oral citations. An authors name and publication date are difficult to remember, so add all references directly into your notes.

Connective Statements and Internal Organization

At this point, you may be realizing that preparing for public speaking does not always follow a completely linear process. In writing your speech, you might begin outlining with one organizational pattern in mind, only to re-craft the main points into a new pattern after more research has been conducted. These are all OK options.

Wherever your process takes you, however, you will need to make sure that each section of your speech outline is connected – what we call connective statements. Connective statements are broad terms that encompass several types of statements or phrases. They are generally designed to help “connect” parts of your speech to make it easier for audience members to follow. Connectives are tools for helping the audience listen, retain information, and follow your structure.

Connectives perform a number of functions:

  • Remind the audience of what has come before;
  • Remind the audience of the central focus or purpose of the speech;
  • Forecast what is coming next;
  • Help the audience have a sense of context in the speech—where are we? (this is especially useful in a longer speech of twenty minutes or so);
  • Explain the logical connection between the previous main idea(s) and next one, or previous subpoints and the next one;
  • Explain your own mental processes in arranging the material as you have;
  • Keep the audience’s attention through repetition and a sense of movement.

Connectives can include internal summaries, signposting or internal previews. Each of these terms all help connect the main ideas of your speech for the audience, but they have different emphases and are useful for different types of speeches.

Types of connectives and examples

Internal summaries emphasize what has come before and remind the audience of what has been covered.

“So far I have shown how the designers of King Tut’s burial tomb used the antechamber to scare away intruders and the second chamber to prepare royal visitors for the experience of seeing the sarcophagus.”

Internal previews let your audience know what is coming up next in the speech and what to expect with regard to the content of your speech.

“In this next part of the presentation I will share with you what the truly secret and valuable part of the King Tut’s pyramid: his burial chamber and the treasury.”

Transitions serve as bridges between seemingly disconnected (but related) material, most commonly between your main points. At a bare minimum your transition is saying, “Now that we have looked at (talked about, etc.) X, let’s look at Y.”

Signposts emphasize the physical movement through the speech content and let the audience know exactly where they are. Signposting can be as simple as “First,” “Next,” “Lastly” or using numbers such as “First,” “Second,” Third,” and “Fourth.” Signposts can also be lengthier, but in general signposting is meant to be a brief way to let your audience know where they are in the speech. It may help to think of these like the mile markers you see along interstates that tell you where you are or like signs letting you know how many more miles until you reach your destination.

Connectives are an important way to assist the audience in understanding a) where you’re going, b) where you are, and c) where you’ve been. We recommend labeling them directly in your outline to make sure that they’re integrated and clear.

Introductions and Conclusions

Now that you have a deeper understanding of organizational patterns and placing your information into an outline, let’s discuss introductions and conclusions. We recommend writing these sections after you have a substantial amount of the main body constructed in your outline.

Introductions and conclusions serve to frame the speech and give it a clearly defined beginning and end. They help the audience to see what is to come in the speech, and then let them mentally prepare for the end. In doing this, introductions and conclusions provide a “preview/review” of your speech as a means to reiterate to your audience what you are talking about. Because speeches are auditory and live, you need to make sure that audiences remember what you are saying.

The general rule is that the introduction and conclusion should each be about 10% of your total speech, leaving 80% for the body section. It can be tempting to have longer introductions, but that often leaves less time to introduce key research and warrant your ideas through the main points.

Structuring the Introduction

Many speakers struggle with how to start their speech because they’re often worried that their words won’t be memorable, attention-capturing, and clever enough to get their audience interested. This is a problem for many of us because the first words you say, in many ways, set the tone for the rest of your speech. There may not be any one “best” way to start a speech, but we can provide some helpful guidelines that will make starting a speech much easier.
Common Errors to Avoid in Introductions 
  • rambling and meandering; not getting to the point;
  • starting with a vocalized pause;
  • saying the specific purpose statement first;
  • beginning to talk as you approach the platform;.
  • reading your introduction directly from your notes;
  • Talking too fast.

With that in mind, there are five basic elements that you will want to incorporate into your introduction and speech outline.
Element 1: Get the Audience’s Attention

The first major purpose of an introduction is to gain your audience’s attention and make them interested in what you have to say. The first words of a speech should be something that will perk up the audience’s ears. Starting a speech with “Hey everybody. I’m going to talk to you today about soccer” has not tried to engage the individuals in the audience who don’t care about soccer.

To create interest, the key is selecting an option that’s appropriate and relevant to your specific audience. You will also want to choose an attention-getting device appropriate for your speech topic. Ideally, your attention-getting device should have a relevant connection to your speech. Below are a number of possibilities for crafting an attention getter.

Anecdotes and Narratives

An anecdote is a brief account or story of an interesting or humorous event. Notice the emphasis here is on the word “brief.” An example of an anecdote used in a speech about the pervasiveness of technology might look something like this:

In July 2009, a high school girl named Miranda Becker was walking along a main boulevard near her home on Staten Island, New York, typing in a message on her cell phone. Not paying attention to the world around her, she took a step and fell right into an open construction hole.

Notice that the anecdote is short and has a clear point. From here the speaker can begin to make their point about how technology is controlling our lives.

A personal story is another option here. You may consider starting your speech with a story about yourself that is relevant to your topic. Some of the best speeches are ones that come from personal knowledge and experience. If you are an expert or have firsthand experience related to your topic, sharing this information with the audience is a great way to show that you are credible during your attention getter.

Startling Statement/Statistic/Fact

Another way to start your speech is to surprise your audience with startling information about your topic. Often, startling statements come in the form of statistics and strange facts. The goal of a good startling statistic is that it surprises the audience and gets them engaged in your topic. For example, if you’re giving a speech about oil conservation, you could start by saying, “A Boeing 747 airliner holds 57,285 gallons of fuel.” You could start a speech on the psychology of dreams by noting, “The average person has over 1,460 dreams a year.”

A strange fact, on the other hand, is a statement that does not involve numbers but is equally surprising to most audiences. For example, you could start a speech on the gambling industry by saying, “There are no clocks in any Las Vegas casino.”

Although startling statements are fun, it is important to use them ethically. First, make sure that your startling statement is factual. Second, make sure that your startling statement is relevant to your speech and not just thrown in for shock value.

A Rhetorical Question

A rhetorical question is a question to which no actual reply is expected. For example, a speaker talking about the history of Mother’s Day could start by asking the audience, “Do you remember the last time you told your mom you loved her?” In this case, the speaker does not expect the audience to shout out an answer, but rather to think about the questions as the speech goes on.

Quotation

Another way to capture your listeners’ attention is to use the words of another person that relate directly to your topic. Maybe you’ve found a really great quotation in one of the articles or books you read while researching your speech. If not, you can also use a number of Internet or library sources that compile useful quotations from noted individuals. Quotations are a great way to start a speech, so let’s look at an example that could be used during the opening of a commencement address:

The late actress, fashion icon, and social activist Audrey Hepburn once noted that, “Nothing is impossible. The word itself says ‘I’m possible’!”

Element 2: Establish or Enhance Your Credibility

Whether you are informing, persuading, or entertaining an audience, they will expect you to know what you’re talking about. The second element of an introduction is to let your audience know that you are a knowledgeable and credible source for this information. To do this, you will need to explain how you know what you know about your topic.

For some people, this will be simple. If you are informing your audience about a topic that you’ve researched or experienced for years, that makes you a fairly credible source. You probably know what you are talking about. Let the audience know! For example, “I’ve been serving with Big Brothers Big Sisters for the last two years.”

However, you may be speaking on a subject with which you have no history of credibility. If you are just curious about when streetlights were installed at intersections and why they are red, yellow, and green, you can do that. But you will still need to give your audience some sort of reason to trust your knowledge. Since you were required to do research, you are at least more knowledgeable on the subject that anyone else in the class.

Element 3: Establish Relevance through Rapport

The next element of your introduction will be to establish rapport with your audience. Rapport is basically a relationship or connection you make with your audience. In everyday life, we say that two people have a rapport when they get along really well and are good friends. In your introduction, you will want to explain to your audience why you are giving them this information and why it is important or relevant to them. You will be making a connection through this shared information and explaining to them how it will benefit them.

Element 4: State your Thesis

The fourth major function of an introduction after getting the audience’s attention is to reveal the purpose of your speech to your audience. Have you ever sat through a speech wondering what the basic point was? Have you ever come away after a speech and had no idea what the speaker was talking about? An introduction should make the topic, purpose, and central idea clear.

When stating your topic in the introduction, be explicit with regard to exactly what your topic is. Spell it out for them if you have to. If an audience is unable to remember all your information, they should at least be able to walk away knowing that the purpose of your presentation was.

Element 5: Preview Your Main Points

Just like previewing your topic, previewing your main points helps your audience know what to expect throughout the course of your speech and prepares them for what you are going to speak on. Your preview of main points should be clear and easy to follow so that there is no question in your audience’s minds what they are. Long, complicated, or verbose main points can get confusing. Be succinct and simple: “Today, in our discussion of Abraham Lincoln’s life, we will look at his birth, his role a president, and his assassination.” From that there is little question as to what specific aspects of Lincoln’s life the speech will cover. However, if you want to be extra sure they get it, you can always enumerate them by using signposts: “In discussing how to make chocolate chip cookies, first we will cover what ingredients you need, second we will talk about how to mix them, and third we will look at baking them.”

What these five elements do is prepare your audience for the bulk of the speech (i.e. the body section) by letting them know what they can expect, why they should listen, and why they can trust you as a speaker. Having all five elements starts your speech off on much more solid ground that you would get without having them.

Application: Check out Sheryl Sandberg’s speech, “Why we have few too women leaders,” and listen to the first few messages. Can you identify and label the parts of her introduction? How did it help you in understanding her message? Was it clear? Did it grab your attention?
Structuring the Conclusion

Similar to the introduction, the conclusion has three specific elements that you will want to incorporate in order to make it as strong as possible.

Common Errors to Avoid in Conclusions 
  • signal the end multiple times. In other words, no “multiple conclusions” or saying “As I close” more than once;
  • ramble; if you signal the end, end;
  • talk as you leave the platform or lectern;
  • indicate with facial expression or body language that you were not happy with the speech.
  • conclude with an abrupt “thank you.

Given the nature of these elements and what they do, these should generally be incorporated into your conclusion in the order they are presented below.

Element 1: Get the Audience’s Attention

Introductions preview your main points; the conclusion provides a review. One of the biggest differences between written and oral communication is the necessity of repetition in oral communication. Your audience only has one opportunity to catch and remember the points you are trying to get across in your speech, so the review assists in repeating key ideas that support your thesis statement.

Because you are trying to remind the audience of your main points, you want to be sure not to bring up any new material or ideas. For example, if you said, “There are several other issues related to this topic, such as…but I don’t have time for them,” that would make the audience confused and perhaps wonder why you did not address those in the body section. The hardcore facts and content are in the body.

Element 2: Restate the Thesis

Make sure to re-state your thesis because this is the main argument that you’re leaving the audience with. While this may come before or after the review of your main points, it’s important because it often directs the audience and reminds them why they’re present. Concluding without reiterating your thesis statement requires the audience to remember an idea from the introduction – which can feel like a long time ago.

Element 3: Clincher

The third element of your conclusion is the clincher, or something memorable with which to conclude your speech. The clincher is sometimes referred to as a concluding thought. These are the very last words you will say in your speech, so you need to make them count.

In many ways the clincher is the inverse of the attention-getter. You want to start the speech off with something strong, and you want to end the speech with something strong. To that end, similar to what we discussed above with attention getters, there are a number of ways you can make your clincher strong and memorable.

Strategies for Effective Concluding Thoughts
Conclude with a Challenge A challenge is a call to engage in some kind of activity that requires
Conclude with a Quotation Select a quotation that’s related to your topic
Visualize the Future Help your audience imagine the future you believe can occur.
Conclude by Inspiration Use inspiration to stir someone’s emotions in a specific manner.
Conclude with a Question Ask a rhetorical question that forces the audience to ponder an idea.
Refer to the Introduction Come full circle by referencing an idea, statistic, or insight from the attention getter
Conclude with a Story Select a brief story aimed at a strong emotional appeal

For the conclusion, make sure your purpose – informative, persuasive, entertaining – is honored.

Conclusion

The organization and outlining of your speech may not be the most interesting part to think about, but without it, great ideas will seem jumbled and confusing to your audience. Even more, good connectives will ensure your audience can follow you and understand the logical connections you are making with your main ideas, introduction, and conclusion.