Many people - even experts - struggle with writing an article because they don't know how to get their ideas out of their head and into a coherent, well-organised article. If you're one of these people, the secret is simple: it's all about structure! If you know some simple structures for an article, it's easy to fit your material into one of those structures.
Here are seven simple structures you can use for your articles. Not all of them will apply to every article, but by having them at your fingertips you should be able to find at least one that will work for each article you write.
1. Timeline (Past, Present, Future)
This is the classic structure that often appears in business presentations:
1. How were things done in the past?
2. What is the current situation?
3. What are you proposing for the future?
This structure is particularly useful when your article is about change, particularly if the underlying environment has changed and your readers don't realise it.
Some topics lend themselves to a geographical approach. For instance, if you’re describing something that affects people differently in different parts of the country, you provide a brief introduction, then take them mentally to each of the locations, and then summarise in your conclusion.
For example, if you're writing about taking action to address climate change, you could start by discussing what countries are doing, then individual cities, and finally talk about what individual readers can do.
3. Scope (Broad to Narrow)
A similar approach is to talk about your topic at a very broad level, then narrow it down, then describe it in a lot of detail. Some readers will want to know the big picture and others want the nitty-gritty details, so this approach allows you to appeal to both types.
For example, if you are writing about personal fitness, you could start by talking about how it adds years to your life and makes those later years more enjoyable; then talk about how it improves general well-being and happiness; and then describe what readers should be doing every day.
4. Problem to Solution
For some topics, it's useful to explain the problem and then describe the solution. In between these two, also describe the cause and effect. So the structure looks like this:
- Problem: What is the problem your readers are facing?
- Cause: What's the underlying cause of that problem?
- Effect: How much is this costing them?
- Solution: What are you suggesting to fix the problem?
This structure is particularly useful when your article addresses something that your readers know is a problem in their life.
5. 4MAT System
Different people have different learning styles. The 4MAT System comes from research by Bernice McCarthy into children’s learning styles. It breaks down your article into four steps:
- Why: Tell the reader why this is important.
- What: Tell them the main points.
- How: Explain the process or solution in more detail.
- What Next: Tell them the steps to take – in other words, your action plan.
This structure is very good for educational articles.
6. Traffic Lights (Start, Stop, Continue)
Another approach, which is very good when writing articles that give advice, is to break down your advice into three sections:
1. What should they stop doing? (Red)
2. What should they start doing? (Green)
3. What should they continue doing? (Amber)
In this, one of the most basic structures, you simply list all your topic items in a particular category – for example, all digital cameras, all types of urban renewal, all food groups – and address each in turn. The article you're reading now is in exactly this style!
This is a very popular style, particularly on-line, because readers like lists and article titles with numbers ("7 Habits", "Ten Steps", "6 Keys", etc.) are attractive to readers. However, these articles generally don't have as much depth as the other formats, so keep this in mind if you choose this format.