The Structure Of An Article: Think Base, Building & Boundaries

Posted at 02:40am on 11th June 2009

Part 6 of 6 in the Series on Article Writing

The secrets of article writing may be thought of in terms of a building project:

  1. Base
  2. Building
  3. Boundaries

BASE: LEAD TECHNIQUES

This is your lead paragraph, the opening of your article, details of which I posted last month under the title Lead Techniques When Writing An Article. Without a firm base on which to begin, your article will simply not stand up. So today we’re going to look at three aspects on writing an article from the perspective of sentence and paragraph construction. Consider the following:

“Jenga is a game of physical and mental skill created by Leslie Scott and marketed by the Milton Bradley Company, in which players remove blocks from a tower and put them on top,” the Wikipedia entry informs its readers.*

“Jenga is a must have game that no fun-loving household would be without,” shouts the Hasbro’ website.**

Most manuals on article writing will tell you to keep your sentences simple. That is, they should contain a single point, which is presented in as few words as possible. Ideally, they should, therefore, be without too many clauses and modifiers.

Back to the illustrations above. Notice, importantly, that in both instances the piece begins with the name of the game: that is, with the topic of the piece. But what we’re concerned about here is which of the two (within the quotation marks) might be considered a simple, single-point sentence? Let’s take them one at a time.

Depending upon how you look at it, the Wikipedia sentence contains either one point (which is elaborated at least four times by the use of description) or five points.

  1. “Jenga is a game. . .” This is one point, with no elaboration.
  2. “. . .of physical and mental skill. . .” Is this another point? Or simply a description of Point 1?
  3. “. . .created by Leslie Scott. . .” A third point; or description?
  4. “. . .and marketed by the Milton Bradley Company. . .” Fourth point; or description?
  5. “. . .in which players remove blocks from a tower and put them on top.” Fifth point; or description?

I’m not sure that it matters, desperately, whether we view it as one qualified point or five individual points. What is significant is that, although a complex sentence, it is:

  • easily understood
  • informative
  • and, therefore, entirely in keeping with the concept of Wikipedia

There’s a lot of information packed into that single, lead sentence. Compare that with the second example.

  1. “Jenga is a must have game. . .”
  2. “. . .that no fun-loving household would be without.”

Again, this sentence may be considered to have one point with two very similar descriptions; or to be a two-point sentence. Using the same criteria as the first illustration, it is:

  • easily understood
  • NOT informative, but attractive and compelling
  • and, therefore, entirely in keeping with the concept of a toy shop out to make a sale!

Point made?

BUILDING: LEAD PARAGRAPH & SUBSEQUENT CONTENT

Just as each sentence should contain a single point (with or without elaboration) so, too, should a paragraph erect a framework on which to hang the content of each aspect of your article. Naturally, the way to structure an article for Wikipedia is to continue with the theme of informing the reader. (My post, How To Structure An Article For Success contains details about theme).

This it does very successfully throughout the body of the article by building on the information given in the opening sentence. Thus the components of the game are described (blocks of wood); the nature of play is laid out; the hazards, rules and manner of winning are all detailed. The language used is simple, un-emotive and factual.

A key sentence should introduce each paragraph, with the remainder of the sentences building on this. I asked you to take note, earlier, of the fact that both illustrations used the name Jenga as the first word of the first sentence. Wikipedia build on the name by defining its origins and meaning which, appropriately, is the Swahili verb “to build”.

Hasbro’s approach is similar. Similar, that is, only in terms of building on its key sentence. Just as there was nothing informative in the opening, neither is there in the content. The emphasis is entirely concerned with attracting and compelling. The phrases “must have” and “no fun-loving household would be without” tell the reader nothing whatever about the game. There is no description. No rules of play. No inventor’s name. No origins.

Its language is highly emotive. Its phrasing is cleverly constructed to convince the reader that life without this game is not cool. To “be someone” you must have this game. If you want to be considered “fun” then you can’t think of being without it. This is the framework upon which the content of the entire piece is erected. Possessing this game will make you the life and soul of the party: friends and family will gather around you for “quality time”.

CAPPING: AN ARTICLE SUMMARY

When writing an article, you need to begin by knowing where you will end. The final paragraph is the punch line and you need to structure an article with this in mind. It should be short (as this will be) and tie in with your opening.

The tower, in the game Jenga, stands or falls on the way it is built: too clumsy an approach in its construction and it will topple. Too many missing pieces and it will fall flat. Similar tactics should be taken with your work. That is to say that with due consideration for the foundation, framework and capping of your content, the secrets of article writing are yours for success.

PS: Contrary to what you might think, I am not receiving commission for this piece (unless any of the directors of Hasbro would like to send me money – preferably of the folding variety). But, yes, Jenga is a great game. Though it’s perfectly possible not to own a set - and still be as cool as me!

And that ends this 6-part series on Article Writing. For other posts on a related theme or on blogging, see the Article Writing & Blogging Site Map.

Previous articles in this series:

If you feel you've benefited from this series, spread the word: send to a friend. And do think about my appeal below. I've already sent hundreds of pounds to my two charities. Please help me to help others.
BUY A BOOK!
AND SAVE A CHILD!

Although many of the articles on this website may be used freely where expressly stated, this one forms part of a series, and may not be reproduced without written permission from the author.

Author of a number of books, one a No 4 Bestseller, Mel Menzies is also an experienced Speaker at live events, as well as on Radio and TV. Book her here for your event.

All proceeds from Mel’s latest novel, A Painful Post Mortem, are for charities benefiting children worldwide. Buy a copy here and help raise cash for children like Rachel, who, at 13 is mother to 6 kids orphaned by AIDS, or this project, drug-proofing teenagers in the UK

* Wikipedia

** Hasbro

Your Comments:

Post a comment:

No HTML allowed. Web URLs will be auto-linked. Please stand by your comments; anonymous posting is permitted but not encouraged. Your email address will not be published, nor will it be distributed. Comments are moderated, and will not appear on this weblog until the editor has approved them. They may also be removed without notice or explanation.

Related Posts

Posts on related themes:

My Latest Book

Chosen?

Available in paperback from my books page, Amazon and Waterstones
Buy Your Copy

Find the Real You...

Start Now
Take a FREE
Personality Test

BBC Radio Devon Interview

Listen to me chatting to Dave Fitzgerald about my latest release, Chosen, on BBC local radio.

Recently On Twitter

Who are you? Here's who I am. https://t.co/8tHRBPIhOd
tweeted by MelMenzies
on 17th July at 01:05
@MelMenzies I'm me, who are you?
tweeted by Cymraes44
on 16th July at 23:13
Who are you?
tweeted by MelMenzies
on 16th July at 18:45
Follow Me on Twitter

Who's online?