Building the best structure for your document

Placing your content in the correct order makes a big impact on the effectiveness of your document.

Before designing a structure for your document

  1. define the purpose of your document – what you want to achieve
  2. understand your readers – what they want and need

If your purpose is to persuade or share information and your readers are likely to give you a fair hearing, then a ‘point first’ structure is often the best. (sometimes called a pyramid or telescoping structure.)

A ‘point first’ structure starts with your key point. You follow this with explanation, reasoning and detail that justifies and expands the point.

Readers find this structure easy to follow; it’s always easier to grasp an argument when you are told the conclusion first. It also allows readers to stop reading when they have had enough without missing your main point.

But if your readers are likely to resist your message, then you may need to walk them through your reasoning and research before telling them your conclusion.

Documents aimed to persuade, a business case for example, are often structured by talking about the problem or opportunity first. This highlights the motivation for change and sets the scene for your solution.

When writing procedures, consider starting with the overall aim or intent of the procedure (to give clear context and purpose) and then present the steps in chronological order.

An effective document structure is one where readers can quickly understand and use the information you provide.