If you want to produce good writing that conveys your expertise on a subject or topic, one of the 5 Essentials you’ll need to master is organization. That is, how you present your ideas and guide your readers from the beginning to the end of your writing piece. Several components go into making up the broad category of “organization,” and one of the most crucial elements is structure.
Well-organized content is a bit like a map—you lay out the route, your readers follow along, and in the end, everyone arrives in the same location. The easier you can make your audience’s journey, the more likely they’ll stick with you until the final destination.
What Do You Mean by Structure?
If organization is the “map” we design to shepherd readers through content, then structure is the roads on which they will travel. Smooth roads, smooth journey? Good map. Bumpy roads, bumpy journey? Bad map.
In other (more technical) words, structure is how you put your sentences and paragraphs together. Well-built sentences and paragraphs make your writing easier to read. In contrast, convoluted sentences and paragraphs can result in your readers getting frustrated and giving up.
Being able to deliver your ideas in an effective, engaging way is especially important if you want to demonstrate your expertise on a subject. Your audience probably won’t care very much how smart or insightful you are if they struggle to get through your writing.
Alright. How Does One Create Well-built Sentences?
A good sentence conveys important information in a succinct and interesting manner. While there are always exceptions to every rule or guideline, these three strategies can help you craft well-built sentences:
1. Keep your sentence length between 12-25 words.
Longer sentences can definitely work, especially for academic or legal texts. But. If you’re writing web content or less formal correspondence, shorter is generally better.
2. Avoid using the same type of sentence structure more than two or three times in a row.
Monotony in sentence structure tends to make people’s eyes glaze over, and so I encourage you to try and use all 4 sentence structures in your writing. Those 4 structures are:
- Simple – one independent clause (“I like writing.”)
- Compound – two or more independent clauses joined together by a conjunction or semi-colon (“I like writing, and I love reading.”)
- Complex – one independent clause plus a dependent clause (“I like writing because it’s fun.”)
- Complex-Compound – at least two independent clauses plus one or more dependent clauses (“I like writing because it’s fun, and I enjoy reading while the sun sets.”)
In addition to helping you avoid monotony, including a variety of sentence structures helps your writing feel more advanced and demonstrates your excellent grasp of language.
Side note: I will point out that sentence fragments—sentences that don’t contain a subject + predicate—can be useful in the right circumstances. I advise against using them in academic writing or formal business writing, but I think they can be engaging in web content or informal communications.
3. Every sentence should add something new to the overall text.
Repetition is clunky, annoying, and a waste of space, and it’s often very irritating and pointless. (See what I did there?)
While you might remind readers of previous ideas from time to time, every sentence you write should provide additional information. So, as you review your writing, ask yourself “How am I adding something new here?” to cut down on repetition.
How Do I Craft Well-built Paragraphs Then?
A good paragraph supports the main idea of your writing, while also functioning as a coherent unit on its own. And, much like the sentence, every paragraph you write should also add something new to your article, essay, or blog post. I recommend the following 3 strategies to ensure well-built paragraphs:
1. Include a topic sentence for every paragraph.
This is the first sentence in your paragraph. Its purpose is to support your main idea and prepare readers for what they will learn in the subsequent sentences.
2. Ensure every sentence in a paragraph relates to the topic sentence in some fashion.
As you write the paragraph, refer back to the topic sentence and make sure you’re delivering on what you indicated you would.
For example. If the first sentence of your paragraph is about how to develop a strong following on Twitter, then your readers will probably be pretty confused if you swap to talking about LinkedIn after two sentences.
3. Keep your paragraphs as short as possible.
Overly long paragraphs tend to not get read. For web content, this generally means writing no more than 4 sentences per paragraph, with 2-3 sentences being preferable. For other types of content, stick with paragraphs that are no longer than about half a page or 175 words.
More formal writing will have longer paragraphs, but if you’re wondering, “Hey, should this paragraph be split?” refer to the above point. If you’ve moved away from the topic sentence of the paragraph, it’s time for a new paragraph.
Do Well-built Sentences and Paragraphs Ensure Good Organization?
Sort of. Even if you come up the most brilliant and original organizational scheme ever devised, no one’s really going to notice if you have clunky sentences and rambling paragraphs.
At the same time, your content won’t really be all that engaging or memorable if you’re relying solely on technically correct sentences and paragraphs. As such, a little creativity and rule-breaking are both essential to crafting writing that people want to read.
More to Come!
Join me again next week as we continue our quest to write like a PhD and sound like experts. In the meantime, please follow me on Twitter!