Spatial Order: A Principle Of Organization

Spatial order is a method of organizing concepts as they relate to each other in a physical space. Photo: Geralt via Pixabay

Spatial order is a fundamental method of organization involving the spatial arrangement of items or thoughts in a certain order. This could be, for instance, organizing your desk from left to right or organizing a poem from top to bottom in stanzas.

Let’s say you’ve got a list of items you want to communicate to someone. This could be a series of events, or maybe you’re trying to describe a landscape with landmarks to someone. Effective communication means putting things in an order your audience can understand, so it is important to organize your thoughts. What is the best way to organize these things and present them to others in a way that makes sense?

You could use chronological order, and describe the items by the order they first appeared in. Or you could organize them with spatial order. When it comes to organizing things in spatial order the most relevant attribute is where the items, structures, or concepts are located within physical space. It’s a powerful tool for composing scenes when writing and organizing, as it will determine how a person observes details in the work or environment.

How Spatial Order Works

Communicating and organizing with spatial order involves using transitive phrases and words, that help members of an audience relate the position of objects to one another in a real or hypothetical space. Words like above, below, left, right, down, up, behind, alongside, and under will have to be employed to build a picture that a reader can grasp. The idea is to build transitions between objects in a space, guiding a reader along so they don’t lose their sense of place or orientation. These macro-level descriptions of areas and concepts can be combined with more detailed examinations of items, as long as the foundation for the examination of laid first.

For instance, if you needed to describe your living room to someone who was going to stay there overnight, you would start with a general layout using spatial organization. “Near the door is a coat rack, to the right of the coat rack is a TV, in front of the TV a coffee table…” After providing them with a general layout of your living room, you could describe in more detail when the room is like. You could tell them that the couch they will be sleeping on is on the far wall across from the TV and in front of the coffee table.

You would describe a room like this by relating the location of objects to one another. Photo: Stock Snap via Pixabay

When writing using spatial order the first step you should take is taking on the perspective of the reader. Try to imagine yourself in their shoes, and decide what the most relevant details will be to them. Start there and then construct the rest of the spatial organization around those details. Make sure any transitions you use are appropriate to the narrative, maintaining a cohesive picture. Using directions like East and West may work better than left or right, as left or right change relative to the position of the observer.

Using spatial organization makes it easy to describe settings and locales to people. You could also use it to describe lists of items, say a list of the things on top of the coffee table.

There is a drawback to using spatial order to present things though, it doesn’t reflect the intrinsic importance of an item. Spatial order can only describe the relationship of things via their relationship to other things in the same space, it can’t draw particular attention to the importance of an item, like a coat rack to hang your coat or a TV to watch Netflix on.

This is why you should determine if spatial order really is the best way to organize your items and objects for presentation. If you need to draw particular attention to something, try another organization method.

Other Types Of Organization

What are some other ways to organize objects and draw mental pictures for people? Other ways to organize events and items include chronological order, climactic order, and topical order.

Chronological order means explaining things in the order that they occurred. It’s a very natural form of ordering, because it’s the way most people follow the events within a story.

When writing you need to choose the method of ordering that lets the reader see the scene you are describing the easiest. Photo: StartupStockPhotos via Pixabay

Topical order is the order that most naturally flows from a given topic. You can think of this as the order that enables the easiest or simplest classification and division between parts of a system or series of items. For instance, if you were describing how a computer is put together, you might start with the central processing unit, which drives the main functions of the computer. You would then branch out from there and describe the systems that support it. You would probably end with a description of the monitor and keyboard, which are devices that only exist for the benefit of the user and allow user input.

Climactic ordering refers to organizing items by how important they are. Using this technique, you draw attention first to the events or items that have the most relevance to the reader and contain the most critical information. There’s a problem with simply ordering items from most important to least important though. If you genuinely want people to pay attention to certain items, sorting things simply in order form most to least important may not be the best method of sorting.

Psychological research has shown that we tend to pay the most attention to the first and last items in a series. This is due to the primacy and recency effects. As a result, the optimal ordering system to make people pay attention to certain items may look more like this:

5 – Most important item first
2 – Item of less importance
1 – Item of least importance
3- Item of less importance
4 – Second most important item last

Whenever you are trying to describe a locale or the position of items in relation to each other to someone, the most important thing to do it take the viewpoint of your reader into account. Remember that you are the guide to the information they are receiving, so be sure to choose the type of organization that makes it easiest for them to view the landscape you are painting for them.

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