When a logical structure doesn’t work

Sometimes structuring your document in what seems to be a logical order just doesn’t work.

We all know that the traditional “scientific” structure we learnt in school is usually not the best way to present information to an audience. Its biggest problem is that it leaves the conclusion to the end – your readers have to trawl through pages of consideration and argument before finding out what you really have to say.

So normally we’d recommend you structure a complex document by putting the big idea first. You’d then gradually start to unpack that idea by providing more detail and examples. This helps your readers by giving them a framework to understand the detail. It also gives them the option of putting aside your document when they have read enough without missing out on your most important point.

But sometimes the ‘point first’ approach is not the best way. If your readers have a particularly burning question that they are expecting you to answer, you will engage them best if you satisfy them quickly. Even if their question is at a lower level of detail than the big picture you really want to talk about, answering their question early will save them the frustration of reading material that they think is irrelevant to them. However, be sure that you present the answer in context so that they are not misled.

So how do you decide what structure to use?

You must know your readers very well and know as much as possible about the things that are important to them. You also must know clearly why you are writing – what your purpose is. Are you trying to inform, persuade or entertain?

Action

Think

  • what are you trying to achieve?
  • what does your audience already know?

Structure your document to engage your readers’ interests and move them towards your purpose.

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