As originally conceived, this series was to "assess the current state of linguistic activity in all fields and all countries" (Vol. 1, p. v). The fundamental organizing principle was geopolitical, i.e., orientation towards a particular area, except for volumes 3 and 11-13 which have a theoretical orientation instead. Though Sebeok was the general editor of the entire series, each volume also had its own editorial board. Contributors from all over the world were enlisted to write chapters in their areas of expertise. All but a handful of articles were either written in English originally, or translated into English before publication. As expected in a work of this size not all the volumes turned out as originally planned. Often a planned article or two are missing from the final work. In Sebeok's introductions, with which he begins most volumes, he points out these omissions. In successive volumes after the first, he also cites reviews of previous volumes in the series.
Each of the first thirteen volumes has biographical notes on its editors and contributors. Those volumes devoted to studies of particular areas have an index of languages and an index of names of the authors and coauthors of the bibliographies accompanying the chapters. The theoretical volumes, on the other hand, while having biographical notes and indexes of names, vary in having other features. (De Miller)