Structuring texts chronologically or thematically

Learning outcome: After completing this module the student should be able to structure a text chronologically or thematically.

3.1 Let’s write a report!

In the last module we talked about how we need to think about our readers when creating a text. Our minds aren’t tidy. Thoughts and ideas float up and disappear again. The text can’t be like our minds. It needs to be tidy, so that the reader can follow our train of thoughts. To help with this we sort our text in genres, as we talked about in the last module. Within the text we have two ways of sorting the parts of the text: chronologically (in the order that they happened) or thematically (elements that belong together because they are about the same topic).
In this module we will especially practice for writing a report. A report can be very simple or very complicated. It can be half a page entry in a log, or it can be a 300 pages political document. If you know how to write a good report, you can learn to write almost everything.

Chronological order

We learnt about structuring a text in the order that everything happened when we were children and listened to the fairy tales. Fairy tales and children’s books tell the story in the order that events happen. We can use this technique when we write about incidents. Describing elements (like incidents or comments) in the order they appeared is the easiest way to structure a text. Examples from our work life where we write chronological texts, are reports and minutes from meetings.
Reports and minutes from meetings aren’t exactly like fairy tales, of course. They have a formal structure where more than one principle for structure is used. But let’s start easy.

3.2 Cause and consequence

But chronological order isn’t as easy as that. If you paid close attention, you noticed that one element appears in the “wrong place”. The fawlty switch was broken before all the incidents described in this report. But It wasn’t brought into the writer’s attention before the fire. Often it is like that. We learn about the consequences or effects before we learn about the cause. Here the fawlty switch is the cause and the fire is the consequence.
The effect or consequence always occurs after the cause, but we need to be very aware that chronological order is not enough to decide casualty.
An example: “It started to rain; the children ran into the school building.” Maybe the children ran inside to avoid getting wet, maybe it was just the end of their break. We need to investigate more to be sure. When we write we often start with the consequence followed by the cause and joined with a “because”, like this: “The children ran into the school because it started to rain”. Now the reader knows that the running was the consequence of the rain.


3.3 How to structure a report

Now that we have practiced chronology and causality, we advance one step further and look at the formal structure of a report.
We will use the fire incident as an example. It’s the next day, and the manager takes time to write a more formal report.

Click the + to show an explanation

Report from the fire in Little Red Hen Cafe+Title, time and place
June 5th, 2019, Prague

To: Alvar Pekkonen, owner of the Little Red Hen cafe+Intended reader (reason)

From: Sina Lebowski, cafe manager+ Writer

On the morning of June 5th, I was in the kitchen of the cafe, turning on the gas stove to make pancakes. I had just turned my back on the stove when I heard a sound. When i turned back i saw the flames on the stove’s right side were high. So high they were hitting the ceiling fan. I grabbed the fire extinguisher and pointed the end towards the stove. The C02 quickly extinguished the flames, but I called the fire brigade anyway. The entire area around the stove was sooty, and the painting on wall was bubbling.+ Description of incident

The fire people investigated the burned out stove and came to the conclusion that there was a faulty switch between the stove and the has tank. This allowed the gas to leak out and flow outside the tube. Unfortunately, the fire had ruined the stove top beyond repair.+ Conclusion

For now we are using the other stove, but we need to have the burned out stove replaced as soon as possible to meet the demand of the breakfast rush. I have checked, and it will cost about 500 euros. The insurance company are waiting for the report from the fire department before they will issue us any money.+ Recommendation

Attached to this report: + Attachments

  • A copy of the email from the insurance company
  • An advertisement for a new stove


3.4 Write your resume or CV
Another type of text that has a very clear structure is the resume. When we present ourselves and our experience, we group together types of information, like personal, education and work. Then we use chronology within the group. Read the example below



Exercise 3:4

Now open a word document or a text editor porgram and try to write your own resume using the same structure:
Personal information
Checklist. Did you remember:

  • name
  • date of birth
  • home address
  • phone number
  • e-mail address

Key qualifications
Checklist. Did you remember:

  • are the qualifications relevant for a job application?

Checklist. Did you remember:

  • formal education and relevant informal courses
  • start date and end date
  • name of institution/course provider
  • topic of study/course

Work experience
Checklist. Did you remember:

  • start date and end date
  • name of employer/company
  • your work title, main responsibilities

Checklist. Did you remember:

  • level

Checklist. Did you remember:

  • name and contact information of reference person
  • name of company

There are many templates online that you can use and adapt. And remember always to check your punctuation and spelling before sending the report, CV or any other document. The next module will help you on that bit.