How to structure your writing

This post was originally added to Learnhigher on: 9th Jan, 2012
Activity time: 20 minutes
Types of media: Handout/s, Webpage, Helpsheet
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Highlighting the importance of structure to constructing clear and effective communication, this resource offers advice on improving structure and planning in academic writing. The resource offers techniques, particularly essay focus and basic structures, which may help to improve student work.
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Academic Writing

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This information sheet will help you understand how to structure your writing in a way that makes it most effective. It will help you ensure that your piece of work clearly and effectively communicates its content.

What is structure?

Structure refers to the order of ideas; the progression of your writing should feel smooth with similar points linked together. Structuring your work is a key aspect of good academic writing ensuring that related sections are linked together and that the ideas and arguments progress in a logical and orderly manner. Writing that is unstructured may link unrelated points, have an illogical or confused argument and lack a real focus. Repetition of points or linking unrelated ideas together can often signify limited preparation and thought.  If your tutor finds your work difficult to understand or struggles to follow the thread of your argument you could lose valuable marks.

Focus and structure

A good way to see if the piece is focused is to try and sum up the information covered in one ‘high concept’ line. This is a technique that Hollywood scriptwriters use and involves summarising a script in one sentence, for example,

US soldiers try to save their comrade who’s stationed behind enemy lines. – Saving Private Ryan

There is a bomb on a bus that cannot slow down, if it does it will detonate. – Speed

Can you sum up the key point or focus of your assignment in one sentence? If not you are probably covering too many differing points and you need to focus your essay down so that you are able to sum it up more concisely.

How to structure your work

A key aspect of structuring your work effectively involves focusing your ideas before you begin. By outlining in note form what you want to cover, you may be more able to link areas and similar thoughts together and then organise a basic structure for the assignment.

For example if your assignment title was;

How has the role of women in society changed?

  • Firstly jot down all the key ideas you hope to cover in your piece of writing.

For example,

Biology and sex


Changing roles in society

Suffragette movement

Gender roles

Women’s rights movement

Socialisation of gender roles

Women’s roles during WW2


  • Now look at the ideas you have listed, can you link any of them together?


For example,

Feminism/ the women’s rights movement/ suffragette movement.

Biology and sex/ Gender roles/ Socialisation of gender roles.

Changing roles in society/ Women’s roles during World War 2.

  • Hopefully now you should have clusters of ideas. Do any of these clusters naturally lead on to one another or does the reader need to know about one aspect before they can fully understand the next?

For example

1. Biology and sex/ Gender roles/ Socialisation of gender roles (basic overview).

2. Feminism/ the women’s rights movement/ suffragette movement (Development 1).

3. Changing roles in society/ Women’s roles during World War 2 (Development 2).

Try to follow the above layout with your own assignment and hopefully it will help you to clarify and structure your ideas and thoughts.

Common mistakes

Students often fail to link ideas together and as such some ideas may be replicated. Ask a friend to proofread the essay for you, as they will perhaps more easily identify any repetition.

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