Chronological Description

The word chronology can be broken down into the Greek words krono, which means “time,” and logia, a branch of learning or discourse. The meaning of chronological description thus has to do with arranging discourse according to time. Chronological descriptions are among the most common ways to describe an event because they follow the natural order that people understand in their everyday experiences.

Chronological Description Chronological Description

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Table of contents

    What Does Chronological Description Mean?

    In composition or speech, chronological description is a method of describing an action or event from beginning to end. Chronological order is also called linear order or time order because it denotes a movement through time in one forward direction.

    Description is a mode of speaking or writing—also known as a rhetorical mode—that recreates a person, place, event, or action for an audience.

    Rhetorical modes are a way of organizing communication so that the audience is impacted most effectively. They are also known as patterns of organization because they often happen naturally during discourse to create a natural pattern of discussion and/or argument.

    If rhetorical modes are about organizing communication for the benefit of the audience, then chronological descriptions are an excellent rhetorical tool because nearly everyone understands chronological order. This is because the entire human experience occurs in chronological order.

    For example, the first thing that happened to you today is that you woke up from sleeping (hopefully). You likely groomed yourself—changed your clothes, brushed your teeth, showered, or some other routine—then, at some point, you decided to study. Next, you picked up a digital device to find helpful content, and you navigated to this page.

    This is a (somewhat loose) chronological description of your day. Whether people are conscious of it or not, everyone experiences the same movement of time, so everyone has an innate understanding of chronological order.

    Stages of Chronological Structure

    Chronological Description The Phases of the Moon StudySmarterFig. 1 - The phases of the moon represent the stages of a chronological description.

    Chronological descriptions can be organized by time—as you saw in the example about your hypothetical day—date, or as a series of steps in a process.

    The chronological structure of an event by date is written much the same way as if it were written by time. This is a helpful way to describe historical events.

    World War I began with the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The very next month, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and the War truly began, with the rest of the world joining in the conflict within a month after that. Trench warfare began in October 1914, after an indecisive victory between Germany and allied troops. After years of conflict in Europe, the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917. In September of 1918, American and French troops conducted the largest offense in US history with the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, where the victory was instrumental in bringing an end to the war. On November 11th, 1918, Germany signed the armistice after being given 72 hours to agree to the Allied Force's demands, and all hostilities were ordered to cease at 11 am Paris time.

    This example moves through the events of World War I in chronological order according to dates of significance. It would be much more difficult to understand this summary of the events if it was laid out other than chronologically.

    You can also use a chronological structure to explain the process of something. Think about a manual or instruction booklet you’ve read; if it was a good manual, it explained how to build the dresser (or whatever it was) by using transition words like first and next as it went through the process steps.

    Chronological Transition Words

    Transition words are those you use to transition from one piece of a chronological structure to the next. These words signal a transition from one step to the next. Look for these transition words that signal a transition through time:

    • After

    • Next

    • Currently

    • Later

    • Then

    • Before

    • Now

    Look for these transition words that signal a movement through a sequence of some sort:

    • First, second, third, etc.

    • Next

    • Then

    • Finally

    A transition isn’t always summed up in a single word, but these are common transition words you’re likely to see—or use—in a chronological description.

    Chronological Description in Writing with Examples

    The way you organize your writing is as important to the meaning as the content itself. If you don’t order your writing in a way that makes sense to the audience, then they’re likely to become confused and lose interest.

    Chronological descriptions are often used in expository writing.

    There are four common types of expository writing; comparison/contrast, description, process analysis, and cause/ effect. These writing styles aim to expose information (hence the name, expository writing).

    Chronological descriptions help the audience understand something by exposing a chain of events. Three of the most common types of expository writing that benefit from chronological descriptions are:

    • Describing the history of a topic

    • Narrating a story

    • Explaining how to do something

    You can use chronological description to explain information in all of these situations.

    Chronological Description: History

    Telling the history of something is perhaps the most natural place to use chronological description. It begins with the inception or beginning of something, then moves through its different phases, and ends with either the present time or a particular event that caused it to conclude.

    Oscar Wilde’s wild life began in 1854 as he was born in Dublin, Ireland, with the given name Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde. He began studying classics at Trinity college in 1871, and then in 1878, he won the Newdigate Prize for his poem Ravenna. After his personal life swelled with marriage and the birth of two children, his career as an author took off with the publication of titles such as Lady Windermere’s Fan, The Picture of Dorian Gray, An Ideal Husband, and The Importance of Being Ernest (and many more) between the years of 1891 and 1895. After suing the Marquess of Queensberry for libel due to a crude remark, Wilde was prosecuted for “gross indecency” and found guilty. After two years in prison, Wilde was released.

    This historical description of Oscar Wilde's life takes significant events one-by-one, going through time from beginning to end. Notice there is no emphasis on the order of importance—or what was the most significant thing that happened to him.

    Chronological Description: Narrative

    Narration is essentially story-telling, and how could anyone tell a story without the use of chronological description? It would be much, much more difficult.

    Narration depends on chronological order because it often seeks to mirror real-life experiences—which, as previously discussed, follow a chronological pattern.

    When the boy came back, the old man was asleep in the chair, and the sun was down. The boy took the old army blanket off the bed and spread it over the back of the chair and the old man’s shoulders. They were strange shoulders, still powerful although very old, and the neck was still strong too and the creases did not show so much when the old man was asleep and his head fallen forward.

    This example is a quote from Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (1951).

    Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea is an interesting example of chronological order. It is a novella divided by days in the man's life rather than traditional chapters. This quote is found in the section for Day One.

    The chronology is subtly expressed in the first line of this quote. Because the story follows only a few days of the man’s life, Hemingway expresses the movement of time by describing where the sun is in the sky.

    Chronology will not always be expressed in obvious terms such as first, next, and last. Notice Hemingway doesn’t say, “Next, the boy took the old army blanket off the bed, then spread it over the back of the chair.” Keep an eye out for subtle references to chronological descriptions, especially in creative narratives.

    Chronological Description Three butterflies side to side, each one is in a different stage of their evaluation process StudySmarterFig. 2 - A natural process shows how chronological description moves from first to last.

    Chronological Description: Process

    Chronological descriptions are naturally used to describe processes because a process by nature has a clear beginning, middle, and end. It is important to walk through a process in chronological order to see your audience through to the finished product.

    You might notice a chronological structure in essay prompts or assignments on an exam.

    Carefully read the following six sources, then synthesize material from at least three. Next, produce a well-written essay in which you incorporate your own ideas based on your analysis of the three sources.

    This is a clear breakdown of the expectation for the assignment. Because it was explained with chronological description, the student knows exactly how to proceed with the assignment and in which order.

    Chronological Order in a Paragraph

    It is possible to craft an entire essay around a chronological description or simply use it as a tool to address a larger topic. Whatever the aim, you can use chronological structures to your advantage, one paragraph at a time.

    If you are writing a descriptive essay structured in chronological order, you should assemble your essay with each body paragraph taking one piece of the chronology at a time. This structures your essay in a way that clearly lays out the movement of time or steps.

    Remember, in a multi-paragraph essay, the body paragraphs are the place for you to provide support for your thesis or the main idea for your essay. Each body paragraph should have a topic sentence in which you address the main point of that particular paragraph. For a description essay that uses chronological order, the topic sentences for your body paragraphs should be the element or stage of the chronology that you will address in that paragraph.

    Your paragraphs could take the subject by date or time or by the structure of the thing you’re examining (line-by-line of a poem, for example). Remember to use helpful transition words to signal your movement through time or the process.

    A basic outline for body paragraphs using chronological description looks like this:

    Body paragraph 1 (one step or piece of the event)

    • Topic sentence

      • Detail

      • Example

      • Discussion of larger context

    Body paragraph 2 (next step or piece of the event)

    • Topic sentence

      • Detail

      • Example

      • Discussion of larger context

    Body paragraph 3 (next step or piece of the event)

    • Topic sentence

      • Detail

      • Example

      • Discussion of larger context

    Don’t simply state the order of events in a descriptive essay that uses chronological order; you should try to illustrate connections between what is happening and whatever your main idea is for the essay. You can do this by discussing what is happening in the larger context with each new step in the chronology.

    Chronological Description - Key Takeaways

    • In composition or speech, chronological description is a method of describing an action or event from beginning to end
    • Chronological order can be explained by time, date, or steps in a process
    • Transition words can be used to transition from one piece of a chronological structure to the next.
    • Chronological descriptions are often used in expository writing
    • You can organize an essay around a chronological structure by using the body paragraphs to break down the steps or events
    Frequently Asked Questions about Chronological Description

    What is the chronological order in essay writing?

    Chronological order in essay writing is a method of describing an action or event from beginning to end to expose information to the audience.

    What is the purpose of chronological writing?

    The purpose of chronological writing is to show the movement of time or steps in a process, from beginning to end, to explain or expound on a larger concept.

    How do you write in chronological order?

    You write in chronological order by finding your starting point and breaking the event or process into sequential pieces. Use transition words to indicate movement from one step in the chronology to another.

    Is chronological order used in expository writing?

    Yes, chronological order is used in expository writing.

    Is chronological order from oldest to newest?

    Yes, since chronological order is the arrangement of events from first to last, it moves from oldest to newest.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    True or false: Description is a rhetorical mode

    If rhetorical modes are about organizing communication for the benefit of the audience, then ________     _______ are an excellent rhetorical tool because nearly everyone understands chronological order

    Which of the following is an example of a common source of chronological descriptions involving a process


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