How to Structure an Article
Writing non-fiction is not so dissimilar from writing fiction, in that there is a definitive structure that can be followed. Much like a story can be broken down into three acts, so too can an article, but the first and third sections are each split in half. This then forms a backbone, around which the skeleton of the article can be constructed.
Our minds expect information to be imparted in a particular way, following this structure. Whilst it may be referred to by different names or headings, it is a logical and well-established order that follows our way of thinking: there is a beginning, a middle, and an end.
An article begins with an announcement of the overall topic or theme. This can be as simple as a sentence – though not always – and is the opening statement of the piece. In effect, this introduces the question which the article itself will answer.
For example, with this article I referenced the three acts that stories follow and announced that there is a similar structure to non-fiction articles. That poses a question: what is the structure?
Once a topic has been announced, the writer must introduce their take on it. This does not need to answer the question they have insinuated, nor does it need to summarise the article, although it can do. More effective is to offer a brief of where the piece is going.
In less informative and more abstract pieces, this is where the opening anecdote or thematic discussion would take place. It is the writer injecting some of their own perspective into what has, until this point, been simply setting the scene; adding characters to a world that was born in the announcement.
With this article, I described the structure as a backbone. By doing this, I made clear that I am not sharing a step-by-step how-to that would be limiting to follow, but instead a basic outline that will help guide writers working on articles. I then explained that our minds will expect it to follow a certain pattern, thereby introducing the section which follows.
This is where the majority of the article will exist; the equivalent of the second act. It is where the writer presents their arguments or findings, offers opinions or facts, and allows for digression.
Whether a direct and lateral piece or a meandering wander akin to a stream-of-consciousness, the way this section is written is entirely down to the writer. Much like a story would feature a subplot, an article can go off on a tangent. It can change topic entirely, if required, however as the presentation draws to a close it must begin to return to its original question.
The presentation for this article is this list of the five structural elements and my explanations of each.
Once the entirety of the presentation has been imparted, the next step would be to bring it to a concluding section. Whilst one single point does not have to be made, the article discussion or information needs to tell the reader something, and conclusions must be drawn, otherwise the article is without purpose. That being said, the conclusions do not need to be spelled out, but instead can be subtly inflected through questions or mere insinuation.
If the presentation digressed, the conclusion is the point where the tangent is brought back to the original topic, in the same way that in fiction the plot and subplot collide at the beginning of the third act.
In my conclusion below, I discuss how this structure can be applied to other disciplines of writing, and clarify its importance.
Once the presentation is suitably concluded, the subjects addressed or parallels drawn can be evaluated. The opening question, asked in the announcement, is answered.
Most articles are written to affect an action, whether that is engaging in discussion within the comments, changing the reader’s opinion about a particular topic or issue, or to leave the reader further educated either factually or by a differing perspective to potentially their own. The evaluation should leave the reader more informed and bring about this action: it is the resolution of the piece.
My evaluation for this essay, and therefore my call to action, is a simple recap of the topic. I address the question insinuated at the start, and the action I am affecting is to inform. By the end of the evaluation, the point I will have suggested is to use this structure to your own benefit when writing.
This structure follows the way we think, and as well as articles it can be applied to essays, speeches, lessons, presentations, stories, screenplays, books, letters, or in fact anything that is putting across a point. It has been used, in some form or other, by writers throughout history, along with salespeople and marketing professionals, as it is also the way of structuring a sales pitch.
By following these basic steps, and article will flow as we expect it to; it guides the writer to make their points or put across their information in a way that is cohesive and clear. The structure is vague enough to be applied to any kind of article, yet specific in its demands. This allows each article to be different, to vary almost infinitely, yet never cause the reader to become lost.
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© 2018 Seb Reilly
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Seb Reilly is a writer, fiction author and occasional musician. He lives by the sea in Thanet, Kent, with his family and two cats.