In this post we will give practical tips to help you set up a nice and clear structure for your articles. In the final part of the first step – the preparing step – the structure of the text comes around for the first time. It really pays off to think about the structure of your piece before you actually start writing. But, also in the other two phases of the writing process, structure remains of great importance. The structure is the skeleton of your text: it will help the reader grasp its main idea.
In this post, we will help you setup your structure while preparing your post, guard your structure while writing and improve your structure in pieces already written.
Set up your structure
Before you begin with setting up your structure, you should have a clear formulation of the central question you would like to answer in your text. We would advise you to put this answer (the message of your text) in the first paragraph of your text. One way or another, you should introduce the message of your text within the first few sentences. Introducing the most important message in the first paragraph, will make it that much easier for your reader to understand your text. And that is very important for web texts.
Next to having a clear formulation of the main message of your text, you should also have a clear idea about which information you will include in your text (and which information will not be included).
Setting up a structure of your text can be done following these three steps:
- Step 1: Create a list
If you have all the information you want to use in your post or article, you can start with structuring. You can write down a list of all the topics (or phrase subquestions / set up short sentences). That list should preferably include everything your text should cover. You could for instance do a brainstorm in order to come up with such a list.
- Step 2: Bundling topics together
When you have a clear overview of all the topics you want to discuss in your article, you start bundling topics. Similar topics should of course be discussed together.
- Step 3: Sorting topics
If you are done bundling, you should decide upon the order you want to present the topics in your article. In most cases you will decide to sort them thematically. For instance if you want to discuss various aspects or angles of a certain topic in order to answer your central question. You should then discuss every aspect in a new paragraph.
Next to sorting according to theme, you could also sort chronologically or discuss your topics in a didactic order. Especially when you try to explain complicated material, a didactic order, in which you explain easy stuff first and difficult aspects later could be a very good idea. Another possibility is to introduce and discuss a problem first and offer (multiple) solutions to that problem next.
After you have ordered the topics you want to address in your article, you should make a new list. This list is actually a kind of summary of the article you are about to write. You could write a short sentence or a few words for every paragraph you plan to write. This list is the skeleton of your article and you should keep it well in mind during the remainder of the writing process.
Guarding your structure
After you have set up your structure, you start the next phase of the writing process, in which you start the actual writing. Use the following tips in order to guard your structure while writing.
Writing the first paragraph
In your first paragraph you should make clear what your readers can expect in the text. Readers on websites are easily distracted. Take them by the hand. The final sentence of Marieke’s first paragraph usually is: “In this post I will explain…”
In the structure you have set up, you have bundled topics together. You can then start to write paragraphs. But what makes a good paragraph? A paragraph can be defined by three things. Remember these things while writing!
1 Each paragraph should form a thematic unit. 2 Each paragraph contains one core sentence and an elaboration on this core sentence. 3 Each paragraph should be made visible (by using whitespace).
Lots of people make mistakes while creating paragraphs. Writers just put some white spaces in their text at random places for esthetic purposes, but do not really think about the coherence and structure of the text. We also see a lot of paragraphs containing only one sentence. In many cases, the coherence within paragraphs and between paragraphs remains unclear. These kinds of mistakes can really mess up the structure of your articles.
Paragraphs can be short or long. The length of a paragraph is decided by the theme you are discussing. It could be two sentences, but a paragraph could also contain 15 sentences. For writing on websites, we would advise to create short paragraphs (stick to less than 6 or 7 sentences).
For texts on websites, we would advise you to always start your paragraph with the most important sentence. Then explain or elaborate on that sentence. A reader will be able to grasp the most important content from your article, just by reading the first sentences of your paragraphs. You can conclude (longer) paragraphs with a summarizing sentence to make your point extra clear.
Use of signal words
In order to guide your reader, you should use plenty of signal words. Signal words give direction to your readers. These words show the reader that you are summarizing (and, too), comparing (less than, rather) or concluding something (thus, consequently, hence).
Using signal words will be like putting cement between your sentences. The relation between two sentences becomes clear by the use of signal words. Readers will understand your content much better if you make proper use of these kinds of words.
Help your reader grasp the structure
Grasping the structure of long articles is hard. You should make sure your readers do not get lost. You can do so by putting sentences in your article which guide your readers. If you have three examples to explain your point of view, tell your readers exactly that: ‘I would like to present three examples to you.’ Subsequently, you will present your three examples using signal words: The first example, the second example, my last example. Structuring your text in such a way (especially when your content is quite hard) will make reading it that much easier.
Headings are important for SEO purposes. Google uses your headings to determine the topic of the content on your website. Your headings should be used to optimize your post (see chapter 18). However, headings are of great importance for your readers as well. Headings allow your readers to quickly scan through your text and decide whether or not they would like to read your article (or which parts). Headings should be attractive and should cover the content of the paragraph.
You can use a heading above each paragraph, or above a number of paragraphs which contain similar topics. The headings should reflect the structure of your text. We would advise you to put a heading above every long paragraph (or above a few short paragraphs which are thematically similar).