Seven principles of structured writing
of structured writing use different terminologies but most of them approach the task
of writing with the same basic principles. These are:
Analysing audience and purpose
Before you start writing you must know (or make assumptions about) the following:
You must know the skills and qualifications of your audience to know what kind of language is appropriate.
You must know whether you want to inform your audience, persuade them, move them to action, or guide them in carrying out a task. Each of these aims calls for a different way of using language.
You must know whether your audience is expected just to read the document and then dispose of it, or use the document to perform a task, or refer to it occasionally. If it is for reference, there must be easily found entry points. If it is a performance aid, there must be concise, easily followed instructions for each task.
Above all, you must state in the document itself what its purpose is so that its readers know what they should be getting out of it.
ChunkingChunking means breaking up the topic into discrete units. Some writers can only do this after theyíve written everything down in one great outpouring. Others do the chunking first, as an outlining exercise. It doesnít matter, so long as it happens before the information is presented to a reader. Readers are overwhelmed by long unbroken streams of text. Research proves that reader attention and comprehension rapidly decline in the absence of signposts (headings) and manageable chunks.
Do your chunking on the basis of the types of information in the document. All information may be classified as belonging to one of seven types.
Seven information typesThe seven information types are shown the following table.
Presentation methods for each information typeWriters learn that once they have classified their information into these seven categories, problems of presentation start to disappear. There are established ways of presenting each of these information types. The following are examples.
Hierarchical presentation begins at the top level and works toward the lowest level. Begin with an overview of the entire topic, identifying each chunk, then describe each chunk in detail, one at a time. Each chunk may in turn consist of smaller chunks.
LabellingEach chunk must have a label. Labels are descriptive headings. They prepare the reader for what is to come and they give the reader a way of locating specific information. Labels should be specific and informative.
ConsistencyConsistency means doing things the same way throughout the document. That way, you make it easy for the reader to follow the text. Consistency takes many forms, including:
Integrated graphicsThis simply means placing charts and drawings adjacent to the text that relates to them, instead of having them off in another part of the document.
Accessible detailsGive your readers the option of reading to a desired level of detail. Donít force them to sift through detail in order to find the main point. But do put the important details where they can be found if needed. Use chunking and labels to separate main points from supporting details.