ACT English: Guide to Topic Development and Organization

tl;dr: Get ready for the ACT English section with this overview of the two subsections: Topic Development and Organization, Unity, and Cohesion. Learn about purpose, intended goal, and relevance and check out some practice questions to see the concepts in action.

ACT English Overview & Strategies

Welcome to the first section of the ACT! For the ACT English section, you will answer 75 questions in 45 minutes ⏱

Check out this article for a general overview on how the ACT is structured. Some questions will ask you to use your grammar and punctuation skills to edit underlined portions of sentences. Other questions encompass larger sections of the passage 📑 For example, some may ask you to reorganize paragraphs or to identify the passage’s main idea 🤔

According to the ACT website, around 29-32% of questions fall under the “Production of Writing” section 📝. There are two subsections in this section: Topic Development and Organization, Unity, and Cohesion 🔑

We’ll go over both these subsections so you can effectively tackle these types of questions on test day!  💪

🚨 The practice questions in this article are to show you the format of REAL ACT English questions! To practice official questions, make sure to find the PDFs released by ACT of real tests.🚨

ACT Topic Development

These types of questions ask you to evaluate a text’s purpose, intended goal, and relevance.


The purpose is WHY the author decided to write the passage. There are three important purposes to remember: to inform, to persuade, and to entertain.

1. To inform: explain a topic and provide information about it. Usually, if you notice there are a lot of facts in the text, such as in a scientific article, the author is trying to inform you.

2. To persuade: argue a certain standpoint on an issue and prove that it is right. An example of this would be persuading the reader that recycling is beneficial.

3. To entertain: write a piece of text that is enjoyable to read. This will probably be a poem or a book.

Let’s take a look 👀 at a sample question that asks about the purpose of a text.

ACT example multiple choice question about a writer's main purpose
Image from ACT, inc.

💡 This question tells you that the purpose was to “describe how mountain ranges affect weather patterns.” The author was trying to inform you of weather patterns. When answering this question, your job is to take a step back and look at the passage as a whole. Did the author focus on this topic? Why or why not?

Intended Goal

Okay, we’ve covered purpose. What’s next? Intended goal!

Intended goal is related to purpose. We’ve determined our purpose, and now we’re evaluating whether or not the text (or a section of the text) achieved it 🤓

Did it achieve its intended goal? If so, keep it. If it didn’t, which of the answer choices better achieves that intended goal? Let’s take a look 👀 at an example question.

ACT example passage
ACT example multiple choice question about a writer's main purpose
Images from ACT, inc.

💡This question tells you that the intended goal of the detail is to “complete the contrast to hybrid-tea roses in the first part.” How would we approach this question?

Read the underlined portion in the passage and decide if it DOES accomplish that intended goal. If it does, choose NO CHANGE. If it doesn’t, think about which of the 3 other choices would better accomplish its goal.


Let’s move on to the third type of ACT English question: relevance!

Relevance refers to how a section of a passage is related to the passage as a whole. How does this piece of information add to the passage’s main idea? How would deleting that information take away from a reader understanding the main idea? These are important questions to ask when evaluating relevance. Here’s a practice question to see the concept in action 📝

ACT example passage
ACT example multiple choice question about relevance
Images from ACT, inc.

💡 Let’s evaluate the relevance of the underlined portion. This question asks you how the main idea, or how a reader would understand the main concept, would be impacted by removing the underlined portion. Think about the underlined portion and its connection to the passage as a whole. What crucial information does it provide?

Organization, Unity, and Cohesion

So what are these types of questions asking you to do? You will be expected to ensure a text is well-organized 📋 and, if not, edit it ✏️ so it flows smoothly.

Some of these ACT questions will ask you to reorganize sentences of a paragraph, while others will ask you to reorganize whole paragraphs of a passage. If you’re reorganizing sentences, make sure to consider the paragraph as a whole and its main idea 🔍 Similarly, although a bit more challenging, if reorganizing paragraphs, be sure to consider the entire passage as a whole and its main idea.

Be sure to think about not only the underlined portion but also the surrounding context 🚀 Think about transitions; how is the subject of the paragraph changing? Look for words/phrases 🔬 like “as a result” (cause and effect), “in fact” (emphasis), “furthermore” (sequence/chronological order), and “but” (compare/contrast).

We’ll look at a few different ACT practice questions.

ACT English example question
Image from ACT, inc.

💡 In the paragraphs mentioned, you will see an [A], [B], [C], etc. Read the sentence and think about its meaning. What is the main idea of each paragraph? Think about how relevant the sentence would be to each paragraph, and decide the best location.

ACT example passage
ACT English example and question
Images from ACT, inc.

💡 Onto our next question. Again, this one is asking you to reorganize information but in a paragraph this time. What’s the logical order of the sentences that would make the paragraph most understandable? This type of question tests your understanding of chronological order and how that can help develop the main idea of the paragraph.


Congratulations! You’ve made it to the end of this article 🙌 You learned about the two subsections in the “Production of Writing” section: “Topic Development” and “Organization, Unity, and Cohesion.” You should have a better understanding of each section and how to approach it, as well as have seen some practice questions that put the concepts into action.

Need more ACT practice?

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