Thursday, August 14, 2008

Structure and Audience

I wrote the following notes to a writer who had sent an introduction that was an uninterrupted six pages long. It was a pretty good draft, but...

But the structure of this as a whole could be more articulated. Right now you basically have six pages of uninterrupted flow which try to introduce the subject of the study and to describe its motivation. But, the different tasks of the introduction could be broken up into sections that you can then mark using section headers—which helps articulate the structure, so that the reader has an even easier time of following the structure.
A basic structure suggested in my preceding sentence would have two sections:
1. Introduction
a. Introduce ideas
b. describe motivation for the study

But this structure is a little more basic than is typically used in a dissertation, where the introduction is broken into sections, perhaps in the following manner:
1. Introduction
a. what it is that you're talking about (the subject matter)
b. why the reader should care (why the subject matter is important)
c. what you hope to find out about the subject matter (what your research question or intention is)
d. How you intend to learn about the subject matter (the research methodology—in your case this might also be a description of study aims like website creation).

In general it might help to remember that the writing is there to guide the responses of the reader: so sometimes think about the chunks of writing by asking yourself “what does this chunk of writing accomplish in my plan to control the response of the reader?” Notice in the four-part outline for an introduction above, each section has a plan with respect to the reader: first you give them an overview of what you’re talking abut, then you give them a reason to care about that subject, then you tell them how you plan to respond to that motivation (in two parts).

Concluding remark for the blog: We often forget about our audience when we're busy trying to say something, and when we're struggling to get it down in words. But keeping the audience in mind can help us focus our efforts, and make decisions about how to proceed. By reminding ourselves of the audience, and of our need to communicate with the audience, we are more likely to write in the important transitional material that makes a work readable.

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