3 May 2012
Sometimes you need to organize so much information in a document that it’s easy to get lost in all the detail.
What can you do to get started with arranging so much information?
There are various ways you can sort through information and get it organised. Today we'll revisit three organising tools: mind-maps, a pyramid of ideas and the UNO.
Sort with a mind-map
To prepare a mind-map, write the general subject of the document in the center of a piece of paper. From there, write the main categories on the subject all around the general subject, and then connect them each to the general subject in the middle.
Next, start writing the many details in your list around the relevant category on the mind-map. Continue this until you’ve got all the details 'parked' in a suitable place on the mind-map.
From there, you can see more easily what information goes where, what is really relevant and what might need to be moved somewhere else.
You can prepare a mind-map by hand or by using any number of mind-mapping software programs available online, some of which are fre/e.
Sort with a ‘pyramid of ideas’
Barbara Minto is famous for authoring The Pyramid Principle, a book that shows how to organize information logically and coherently. When you apply the pyramid principle, you start by writing the main idea at the top of a ‘pyramid’. Beneath it, answer the first question a reader will probably ask. You then continue answering likely questions that follow.
For example, at the top of the pyramid, you might start out with: We propose purchasing new desk chairs for all department colleagues.
The reader’s first question will probably be Why should we do that? Write your answer to that question directly beneath the proposal at the top. Your answer might be Because there are many benefits.
The reader’s next likely question will be What kind of benefits? So you’ll then write the answers on the next line below, from left to right. For example, There are two benefits: it’s better for our health, and it will lead to better productivity.
After that, the reader will probably ask you to back up your reasons with evidence. You then list the points of evidence directly beneath each of the two benefits, also from left to right.
By the time you're finished, the outline will form the shape of a pyramid. From there you can begin to draft the document, starting anywhere you want.
Sort with UNO
If you’re not comfortable with mindmaps and don’t want to try using a pyramid of ideas, there’s another easy-to-use resource I found several years ago.
It’s called UNO (short for ‘Universal Organizer’). The UNO is formed by a series of concentric circles divided by lines that split them up like pieces of a pie. You start by writing the main idea/subject in the innermost circle. In the next circle out, you list sub-points. The next circle out is where details about those sub-points go.
You can draw as many circles as you need to sort out ideas before you begin to draft. As you draft, tick off (or mark with a highlighter) the points you’ve written about. That means you can write in any order and not be stopped by writer’s block.
Here’s the link to get a fre/e download of the UNO.
Do you have any organising tips you'd like to share? If so, please leave a comment.