How to Write a Spatial Essay

Student writing in notebook at table.
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An essay about what homes will be like in the future is an example of one kind of topic that might not work well in conventional patterns of essay organization. Rather than chronological or sequential patterns, for example, you might discover that using a spatial essay organization pattern is the most effective way to go. To use spatial order in your essay, emphasize how objects, people, places or concepts relate to each other in a particular manner.

1 Choose a Subject

First, as with any essay, you need to choose a subject that lends well to spatial organization. If your instructor has provided a specific one for you, this part is easy. If not, think about subjects that interest you. You might choose to describe the parts of a combustion engine and how they work together, or the people in your family and how they are related to each other.

Spatial essays are also great for going on a trip. Think of a place you've always wanted to visit and where you'll go when traveling there. For example, imagine you'll be visiting San Francisco for a few days. You're going to describe the tourist sites you want to see and how they are situated in relationship to one another.

2 Brainstorm Using a Diagramming Activity

You can brainstorm any number of ways, but for spatial order essays, some type of diagramming (also known as clustering, bubbling, webbing or mapping) activity is most effective. A diagramming activity does not replace an outline in the prewriting process; it is designed to allow you to visually explore concepts before you make decisions about the order in which you will write about them.

Going back to our San Francisco example: In the middle of your diagram, you would start by writing "San Francisco." As offshoots from the center of your diagram, you have some options. You could break your visit down by day (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3) or major attraction (Alcatraz, Conservatory of Flowers, Mission murals). For our purposes, let's choose three neighborhoods: the Embarcadero, Haight-Ashbury and Chinatown.

3 Construct an Outline

After fleshing out your diagram, construct an outline for your essay. Beneath each topic, outline two or three subtopics. In our example, the subtopics are the tourist attractions to visit in each neighborhood. If you decide to outline the subtopics even further, you could explain how the hot spots within each district are spatially related, as well. For example, under the Haight-Ashbury topic, note that the world-famous Amoeba Music is just a few blocks from Golden Gate Park.

4 Construct Body Paragraphs

Finally, it's time to write your body paragraphs. Because spatial order does not depend on a prescribed process or sequence, you have the freedom to choose which spatial element will begin your essay. Remember that the essay needs to explain how your topics relate to each other. Therefore, prepositional phrases will be useful. Noting landmarks and the proximity among them -- for example, that Chinatown is next to the Financial District and that Haight-Ashbury is to the west of the Mission District -- helps your reader visualize how to navigate the terrain and stay engaged in the journey you're taking them on.

Maureen Green has been a writer and editor for more than 10 years. She has worked with print publications such as "Script" magazine, as well as various websites and small businesses. Green has also been teaching composition online to adult, military and ESL learners since 2008.