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Organizing thoughts is no different than organizing a closet. The first step in organizing a closet is to separate the items into at least two groups. The first group consists of the items you no longer need or use, and the second group is comprised of the items you want to keep.
The next step is to further separate the items in the second group into smaller groups. For example, you may choose to separate your clothing by type and place all the dresses in one group and all the sweaters in another group. For example, the group may be subdivided into two groups: dresses and sweaters. These two groups may be further refined by separating each group by color, size, or season, depending on the objective.
The last step is to arrange the smaller groupings within the closet. You may elect to arrange the dresses on the left side of the closet and the pants on the right side, or all the shirts on the upper bar and all the pants on the lower bar. You may choose a different arrangement scheme if you have created seven groupings, each consisting of items you plan to wear on each day of the week. Again, the arrangement is determined by the way you plan to use the items in your closet.
After completing the steps outlined above, the items in the closet are now ready to be used. The structure is functional, and the clutter has been eliminated. In other words, chaos has been tamed and replaced by order.
In the example above, grouping items into some type of order is the first step in organizing the closet. The first step in organizing thoughts is also to create groupings, or clusters. These clusters are categorized as either mental or natural orders.
The mental ordering process is a method of assembling things or ideas into logical groups. In some instances, it may make sense to arrange items by type. In other situations, it may seem logical to group things by color. In short, mental ordering is an arbitrary process and depends on the objective.
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Unlike mental orders, natural orders have a basis in nature. Although topical, analogical, chronological, and causal are categorized as natural orders, they can also be considered mental orders because they have been imposed by humans.
If the objective is to convey a description, topical order works well because it suggests a spatial relationship. A reference to the “mountain of shoes in the far left corner of the closet” is considered topical.
Analogical order is effective in communication because it uses a comparison to convey meaning. This paper itself is an analogy because it compares the steps in organizing thoughts to the steps in organizing a closet.
Another natural order is the chronological order. Chronological order is used to arrange items, events, or ideas in the order in which they occur.
The last natural order is the causal order, which deals with cause and effect. The statement “If you put one more thing in that closet, the doors won’t close.” is an example of cause and effect.
After the groups, or clusters, have been created, the next step in organizing is to analyze the groups and items within the groups. The purpose of this step is to further refine the groupings and determine if changes are necessary.
The final step in organizing is to arrange, or prioritize, the groups according to their intended use. Again, the arrangement depends upon the objective.
After the organization process is complete, the thoughts, just like the items in the closet, are now in some form of order and able to be processed and analyzed. By following our instincts and introducing order, ideas become easier to digest, analyze, and communicate. The structuring of the information enables us to apply critical thinking skills to reach a logical conclusion.
Kirby, G. R., & Goodpaster J. R. (1999). Thinking. University of Phoenix Custom Edition e-text. Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing. Retrieved January 16, 2005, from University of Phoenix, rEsource, ORG/502—Organizational Behavior Web site: http://ecampus.phoenix.edu/secure/resource/resource.asp