Checklist: Ordering Reasons

Readers will find your argument easier to follow and more convincing if your reasons follow an order that makes sense to them. That means you need a strategy for the order of your reasons. Know your options for ordering reasons, try out several orders, and choose one that will lead readers to understand your argument in a way that feels clear, logical, and persuasive. Assume that the first order that comes to mind is probably not the best.

If your kind of document has a fixed format, then put your reasons in the order dictated by the format. If not, be as creative as you can in trying out different orders. But if you come up empty, there are some common orders you can use as models. Try out more than one and compare the results—or better yet, test the results on a friend or surrogate reader.

Common Orders You Can Try Out<

When you choose an order for your reasons, you can focus on their substance—what you cover in them--or on how your readers will react to them. If you focus on the substance of your reasons, try these orders:

  • Chronology: If your reasons are related to a time line, you can order them first-to-last or, less commonly, last-to-first.
  • Cause-and-effect: If your reasons follow a chain of cause and effect, you can order them first-to-last or, less commonly, last-to-first.
  • Steps:If your reasoning follows logical steps or steps in a process, you can order them first-to-last.

If you focus on how readers will react to your reasons, try these orders:

  • Familiarity: If some reasons are more familiar to readers than others, you can order them from most to least familiar.
  • Difficulty: If some reasons are harder to understand than others because they are more complex or require more knowledge, you should usually order them from easy-to-difficult or simple-to-complex.
  • Strength: If some reasons are more likely to be accepted by readers, you can start with the strongest or build from weakest to strongest if the reasons are connected in a logical sequence.

How to Choose an Order<

1) Does the substance of my reasons follow a time line, from earliest to latest?

YES<
NO<

Click here for an example.<

Example:

Claim:
Access to water in the West would be fairer if water policy was based primarily on getting the greatest ultimate value from each drop of regulated water supplies rather than on the current focus on water rights.

Reason covering earliest developments:
Water rights became a political issue in each western territory as soon as it established a system of law that made it legally dangerous to settle water disputes with guns. But the rich and powerful sill had the greatest access to water and water rights.

Reason covering next developments:
When water supplies began to be controlled by dams and other government-sponsored public works, the political process that assigned water rights favored those with money and influence even more than it had earlier.

Reason covering most recent developments:
Now that water shortages are a present reality and a future certainty, society at large has begun to suffer from the inefficient distribution of water rights as they have evolved in the last two centuries.

2) Does the substance of my reasons discuss things that caused one another?

YES<
NO<

Click here for an example.<

Example:

Claim:
Many have criticized the recent teachers’ union strike in Springfield County. But the teachers themselves did not cause the strike; in fact, a series of financial missteps by the Springfield County Board left school administrators without enough money to fund teachers’ benefits, making the Board responsible for the charges leveled against the teachers’ union.

Reason covering the first cause:
Under pressure by the media for high crime rates, the county board diverted the majority of its budget from the school districts to the Sheriff’s Office.

Reason covering the next cause:
Because the County’s budget was primarily devoted to law enforcement, schools no longer had enough money to fund teacher benefits, let alone essentials like textbooks and lunch programs.

Reason covering the final result:
Now stripped of health care, retirement plans, and vacation pay, Springfield county teachers could no longer justify going to work. Rather than totally abandon their students by finding new jobs in another county, they chose to go on strike in the hopes of working out a compromise with the county board.

3) Does the substance of my reasons follow logical steps or steps in a process?

YES<
NO<

Click here for an example.<

Example:

Claim:
Although the Medicare/Medicaid reforms seem to be effective, more extensive testing is needed to determine whether or not users are taking full advantage of these health plans.

Reason covering the first step:
Right now, we need to assess the instructional materials given to those who are eligible for the new Medicare/Medicaid plans, and determine how effectively they educate prospective users.

Reason covering the next step:
After we understand the materials used to educated potential users about Medicare/Medicaid plans, we need to survey those who are already using the plans.

Reason covering the final step:
Though these first two procedures will give us a good basic data set to begin with, we will also need to contrast this information with similar surveys of other private health insurance options.

4) Will readers already be familiar with one or more of my reasons?

YES<
NO<

Click here for an example.<

Example:

Claim:
We need to invest in renewable energy sources, and cut down our dependence on fossil fuels like oil and coal.

Reason that is most familiar:
Most people know that our dependence on fossil fuels is bad for the environment; even those that praise the effectiveness of today’s filtration systems still admit that fossil fuel exhaust must be filtered before being pumped into the air.

Reason that is less familiar:
Some have also argued that focusing our national energies on developing solar, wind, and hydroelectric power will create new employment opportunities on a national scale—a welcome change during this economic recession.

Reason that is least familiar:
Most people, however, fail to imagine the positive impact that developing renewable energy will have on our federal budget; once renewable energy systems are in place, the large amount of money spent to subsidize coal mining and oil drilling will be free to use on other pressing budgetary needs.

5) Will readers find one of my reasons more difficult to understand?

YES<
NO<

Click here for an example.<

Example:

Claim:
There should be stricter censorship laws for late-night television programs.

Reason that is the least complex:
New studies show that children ages 6-12 are watching more hours of television per day than ever before, including a spike in children watching late-night programming.

Reason that is more complex:
Late night shows are getting dirtier; the current FCC standards for late-night television content are vague, leaving many loopholes for programs that want to push the boundaries of what is appropriate.

Reason that is the most complex:
New psychological studies have conclusively demonstrated the negative effects of televised swearing, violence, and sexual content on the development pre-teen children; these findings have connected such adult content to sociopathic disorders, cognitive-developmental problems, and even threats to children’s physical health.

6) Will readers be likely to accept one of my reasons more than the others?

YES<
NO<

Click here for an example.<

Example:

Claim:
Washington D. C.’s traffic problem has gotten out of control, but can be fixed; the District should redirect money from highway maintenance and expansion to developing new and more frequent commuter train routes.

Reason that begins to build up:
The highways around Washington D. C. have recently been expanded; many of these roads are in good condition, and don’t require the amount of attention that the District currently gives them.

Reason that continues to build up:
A recent poll has shown that most commuters are actually in favor of an expanded commuter rail system, and would stop driving to work every day if rail travel were cheaper and more readily available.

Reason that is the strongest:
If the District goes through with this plan, it can generate more money than it spends on this project on rail-fare taxes (while creating new jobs in the process).