Effective writing means that, before you write one word of your text, you need to think about the structure of your piece. Structure is the skeleton of your text. It’s the framework that will help your readers understand and appreciate your message.
Think before you start writing
On paper or PC, freely jot down the topics you want to write about. Don’t worry about organization yet. Next, organize these thoughts into some kind of structure. Then keep that text structure in front of you as you begin to write. This step will help you stay on track and going in the right direction. Following are some ideas for creating a clear text structure.
1. Make a list
You should have collected all or most of the information you’ll be using in your writing. Next, organize it by making a list of all the topics you plan to cover.
2. Group your topics
Once you have your topic list, group the topics that seem to belong together. This step will begin to put some flesh on the skeleton and direct your writing.
3. Order your topics
Now it’s time to decide on the order in which you want to present your topics. There are several choices for ordering text, including:
- Theme (e.g., subject; dominant or unifying idea)
- Time order (e.g., by year, event, older to newer)
- Difficulty level (e.g., easier to harder)
- Problem-solution (e.g., state the problem(s) and follow with possible solution(s))
- A well-thought-out mix of the above
Each aspect of your topic should then be covered in a new section or paragraph.
After you’ve ordered your topics, it would be useful to make a new list. You can think of this as an executive summary or outline of what you’re about to write. It can be very helpful to write a short sentence for each paragraph you plan to write. It’s the first layer of adding flesh to your skeleton structure, and should be kept front and center for the rest of your writing process.
Creating those paragraphs
A lot of writers don’t understand the function, usefulness and value of a paragraph. Just hitting the Enter key does not define a writer’s paragraph. Paragraphs help define the structure and coherence of your text.
How long should a paragraph be? The answer is determined by what you’re writing about. It might be two sentences or it might be 10 sentences. However, to make it easier for your readers to absorb your messages, think in terms of audio sound bites – too short, and your writing might sound like machine-gun fire; too long and your readers will get lost in the words (the reading effort numbs the understanding). Though paragraph length can easily vary, using somewhere around five reasonably short sentences is often most effective. Here are some guidelines:
- A paragraph should form a topic unit.
- A paragraph should have one key concept, followed by an expansion or explanation of this core concept. It’s usually most effective to have this key idea in the first sentence of a paragraph. Note: If someone is skimming, he or she can get the gist of your text by simply reading all the first sentences.
- A paragraph should be clearly identifiable, by using either a space after the previous text or by using an indent (some writers use both, though that’s usually considered overkill).
Headings and sub-headings are also useful to your readers. Like key-thought first sentences in paragraphs, headings let your readers quickly skim through your text in order to focus on the part(s) they want to read. Therefore, it’s important that headings be eye-catching and should describe what’s to come in the following paragraph(s).
Setting up a coherent text structure for your writing will usually result in clear writing and communication of your message to your readers. If people easily get and understand your message, they’ll be more likely to tell others about your work.
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