Personal blogs: the elements of structure

structuredblocks3.jpg

Blocks assembled in a structure. Structure imposed on a pile of blocks.

Do you think about structure when you write a blog post? I thought not. Let me introduce you to the 6 elements of structure—and no, I’m not talking about content or style.

I can already hear you muttering: “Structure? Whaddya mean, structure? I just write whatever comes into my head.”

And as a reader, all you care about is the message, the story, the content, and the tone. Why would you even notice the way a blog post is constructed? Only nerds would even think about such a thing.

  • When writing a report, you structure it rigorously. You probably have a template or a style guide that prescribes the order of the parts.
  • When writing a complete book, you need to control the structure or you will drown in words.
  • When writing an academic essay, you use a structure that your professor prefers, or your grade may suffer.
  • But writing a blog post? Nyah. Most people just write, thinking only of what they want to say.

Indeed, maybe for you the very joy of blogging lies in the freedom to write without  rules or conventions. That can be true bliss after conforming to a corporate style guide or struggling with the Hero’s Journey for years.

But remember (she says mildly), you do have other choices.

Why bother thinking about structure in your blog?

  • Awkward structure can make your reader feel twitchy, confused, or annoyed.
  • A satisfying structure can make your reader feel positive, engaged, and clear.
  • Structure affects your reader subconsciously.

An understanding of structure:

  • gives you a wee buzz
  • gives you options and flexibility as a writer
  • helps you to grow as a writer.

Most people associate structure with formal documents, not with a personal blog, which is often extremely casual writing. And indeed, most of the time, structure hovers beyond my conscious mind when I’m blogging.

I start a blog post with a half-formed idea and as I write, I delete and shuffle and rewrite until I “feel” as if the post has a satisfying size and shape.* If it doesn’t come right, I’ll tinker until the structure supports the message—or dump the post. Easy if you have been practising and teaching writing for 50-odd years. Impossible if nobody has ever explained to you what structure is. (Which is the norm.)

So let me do that for you, keeping it nice and simple.

If you would like to learn more about structure, read on. If you are totally satisfied with the way you write already, that’s fine too—’bye now—I understand!

What does structure mean in writing?

Well, structure in writing has the same meaning as in building, or con-struction. There’s a strong parallel.

Say you want to build a small garden shed. You don’t just drop random pieces of timber in a heap and hope they will fall into place and organically self-connect. You design the shed first, or at least have a fair idea of what you are aiming at. Then you build it according to plan, maybe adjusting the plan along the way.

Structure (for a building, a document, or an organisation) is about size, shape, and organisation. It’s about how the parts connect to each other, support each other, and combine to make a coherent and cohesive whole.

A box of children's blocks.

A jumble of children’s blocks: no attempt at structure. Like random sentences thrown down together.

Before you start constructing anything, you usually know a few basics, at the very least.

  • What are you going to build—a shed? or a blog post?
  • What is the purpose—to store your tools and bikes? or tell people about your travels
  • Where will it go—in the back yard? or on your blog?
  • What materials will you use—wood and roofing steel and nails? or words, sentences, paragraphs, images, graphs, videos?

As you write, your blog post assumes a certain form, a form that is actually physical.

The 6 elements of structure

  1. SIZE. How long will your blog post be?
  2. DENSITY. How many points, ideas or facts will you convey?
  3. SEQUENCE. In what order will you make your points?
  4. PRIORITIES. What is your main point? How much space will you give it?
  5. PARTS. What parts will the blog post have?
  6. CONNECTIONS AND TRANSITIONS. How will you join the parts together? How will you guide the reader from one point to the next?

Structure is a powerful tool

Blah blah blah, you’re thinking? But hey, you already do structure your writing—maybe not in advance, but as you go. Maybe not on purpose but accidentally. Even your shopping lists have a sort of structure. This one has three parts in a particular order.

shop-list-structure

A fun exercise: spot the structure

For a blog post, no structure is absolutely good or bad. What’s right for one is wrong for others. I like all the blog posts below and think the structure works. But each has a completely different structure. Please read them, and try not to think about their subject matter. Instead, figure what shape each one reminds you of. A jellyfish, a powder puff, string of beads, a coat of arms, a tennis ball, a single jewel, a bridge, a ladder, a fire, a triangle? — I don’t know, you tell me!

  1. One word Sunday — Row
  2. Let’s dance (Yeah, another blogger)
  3. Are you ready for some foot talk? (mistermuse)
  4. Debate: Rating a book without review (readrantrock&roll)

 

Just noticing structure gives you power

I can’t help noticing these things and I really love being able to see where my own edifice of words and images might benefit from a tweak. I’ll blog some more on this topic because I want to share the pleasure and the power of this knowledge.

Your blog is your toy. Show it some love!

* Organising my writing into paragraphs happens in bits and pieces, it happens iteratively and organically, after the first draft has been plonked on the page. (For you it could be different.) That’s why I’m unlikely to use Gutenberg, despite all its splendid features.


Rachel McAlpine cc by 2.0 — please share. Expect other articles on blog structure in the next few weeks.

21 thoughts on “Personal blogs: the elements of structure

  1. Sadje says:

    A great post. I would love to share this with your permission

    1. Sadje, thank you – love you to share it.

      1. Sadje says:

        Have reblogged it on Keep it alive, with the comment;
        Rachel McAlpine, writes about blog structure. A post worth reading from a delightful blogger.

  2. Structure surely has it’s place, occasionally I use it in my blog writing, but only when I feel like it, just to stretch those muscles a little, but mostly I write stream of consciousness stuff… after six decades of successful structural writing, it is a lot of fun and feels oh so good for my soul to loosen the corset of structure. Just as it felt good, after decades of reading almost exclusively male authors (academic), to spend spend a few years reading exclusively female authors.

    When you think of it, most of what people read on social media lacks not only structure, but content and style as well. Culturally, the world might even descend into communication by emoticons.

    1. When a sense of structure is ingrained by many years in academia, what joy to break free! Yes, fb and instagram and other social media platforms have their own shorthand language now,, blogging on WP is a sort of crossbreed.

  3. Certainly gave me food for thought, especially as I write how I feel. I do tend to tweak, delete, re-write and reorganise as I continue by shuffling things around though, and try to keep my posts less than 500 words.

    1. So without necessarily using that word, you are adjusting the structure. It’s satisfying, don’t you think?

      1. It is, because it makes me think how my posts are actually structured and presented to the reader.

  4. Great advice.

  5. Your writing process sounds a lot like mine. Sometimes I feel that I should loosen up a bit, but, ultimately, that’s just not me. Maybe it is because of the writing I did in my career, or maybe it’s just the way my mind works. With all the blogs out there to read and follow (and, currently, I follow way too many), structure is something I look for.

    While I appreciate “stream of consciousness” writing, and why someone might want to base their blog on that (after all, our blogs can be whatever we want them to be and whatever makes us happy), they are not typically ones I want to read or follow. I always appreciate a clear topic, good writing, paragraph breaks (please!), a beginning, middle, and end, and a word count that demonstrates that the writer is not only focused on their subject, but is sympathetic to the limited time we have read their blog post.

    1. Very wise! Tolerance is good, but it’s also good to have our own satisfying rules and habits.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Hi Rachel Mc Alpine, thanks for sharing your knowledge about structure. I started writing a personal blog and I’m in very much need of knowledge of these things to make my blog look beautiful and readable. Please do visit my blog. Thank you

  7. Elizabeth says:

    I have the less typical writing approach which is nearly all conceptual. By the time I sit down to write my post, I have laid out already in my mind.I was always being pushed to revise, revise, revise and outline, outline, outline, but it rarely worked for me. I do agree with you about the importance of structure. I am reminded of Robert Frost’s quip that free verse was like playing tennis without a net.

    1. Wonderful! Thank you for describing your writing process here. We have to work with our own special abilities. Some towering writers have written your way. Lucky you!

      1. Elizabeth says:

        I never knew that. I have always been told that my way was wrong, so I have been rather clandestine about it.

  8. lynmacgtn says:

    A lovely post as always, Rachel. I was fascinated by each of your examples too.

    1. I am delighted that you appreciated the example sites. Thank you, Lyn.

  9. NJ says:

    This is such a useful post 😊 I will check your mentioned blogs later to check their structure. Thank you for writing this post.

    1. Thanks NJ. You seem to have a healthy sense of structure already but it’s interesting to check out the wide range of possibilities.

  10. Mike Jones says:

    Beyond a certain point, a certain amount of structure is inevitable. This fact is the central point, and central focus, of Ramsey Theory. For example, in any group of six or more people, there will be either three that are mutual acquaintances, or three that are mutual strangers.

    1. So we perceive a pattern when we have enough data. That’s a help in learning how to create a structure.

%d bloggers like this:
Skip to toolbar