In the third part of this series, I mentioned how all writing is storytelling (more or less). For academic writing in particular, you are usually telling the story of research you have carried out, a project you would like to do, or how you have synthesized evidence into a new interpretation. And, like storytelling, ensuring that you structure your paper in such a way to make it easy for your reader to follow can make a big difference to how it is received.
For certain things, such as some conference papers and the like, a structure is imposed: introduction, background or related work, research methodology, results, analysis, conclusion. Job done. As far as an overall structure goes, this is a pretty good start!
But if you’re not sure about how to structure your document, you have a few options. Always start by checking whatever guidance is provided; even if there are no formal requirements, a suggested structure may be lurking somewhere inside. If that doesn’t turn up anything and you’re writing for a publication, take a look through past issues to see how successful papers have been written; are there any commonalities?
The key thing to remember is that you are taking the reader on a journey along with you. Sign post what you will be telling them in each section, whether directly through a heading or a brief introduction. Not only do you want a solid beginning, middle, and end, but you want to show how your thinking progressed throughout and how you reached your conclusions. Sections should logically follow one another.
Beyond the overall flow of the document, structure can also apply to the very sentences that compose it. Are they clear or convoluted? Do you forget how they started by the time you get to the end? For academic writing in particular, consider varying your sentence structure and length. This often produces a more engaging paper than a lot of long sentences glued together with semi-colons or a never-ending stream of commas. It’s pretty useful within blog posts too!