Structure tip: Move from the general to the specific

With complex material to present in a long research document, it can be difficult to get the structure right, particularly in the introduction.

A good technique to organise material is to move from the general to the specific. This tip works for the whole document and for the introduction and for other sections.

In the introduction or first section, write enough to introduce the broad topic and put your work in context. Then go into detail. Diving straight into the detail may lose some readers. Similarly, too much general background that is well known to readers may leave them wondering if there is anything new and whether it is worth reading on.

Establish the purpose of your writing, what you are contributing, and why it is worth readers continuing to read on. Be aware of technical terms or jargon in the introduction. Are these terms helpful or offputting? How well known are they?

Reverse this structure technique at the other end of the document. When discussing results or drawing conclusions, move from the specific back to the general. Summarise your work, then broaden it out to generalisations. There may be limitations and caveats to note when moving from the specific back to the general.

More tips for structure:

  • Consider the audience and their level of familiarity with the material when deciding where to start in the general context.
  • Use the title, headings and subheadings to set the scene and prepare the reader for the content in the whole work and each section, and the context.
  • Use a top-down approach to structure by developing the headings first, then the subheadings and use content in dot points under each heading as a guide for your writing.

See related blogs:

For advice on editing and writing, please contact me on rhdaniels@bigpond.com

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