Building the Perfect Writing Structure One Layer at a Time

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We all know when a piece of writing ‘makes sense’. It feels logical and guides us through to the end without any missed steps or wrong turns. At the end of the article, we feel satisfied and are likely to go back for a second helping of the author’s writing.

We know the benefits of sound writing structure — we achieve our aims and deliver the message effectively to our readers.

But what you might not know is that structure is layered. It’s not ‘beginning, middle, and end’. It’s not ‘introduction, main body, and conclusion’. 

I think of writing structure as three layers that work together in one well-balanced dish. When we plan carefully and execute the perfect structure, our writing tastes beautiful.

To demonstrate each layer of the cake we’ll be baking, I’ll refer to an article previously published in the Writing Collective. You can find it below.

Let’s get cooking!

Macro structure (the sponge)

A cake wouldn’t be a cake without the sponge (but if it’s only sponge, it’s not much fun).

Macro structure is the big stuff — the blocks of content. In fact, there are three ingredients: 

  1. The major points an article discusses or highlights
  2. What we decide to omit
  3. The order of the content

This is the kind of structure we are familiar with. When writing a plan, we try to develop our ideas in a logical framework that readers have seen before and can easily consume.

Examples of article frameworks: 

  • Chronological
  • Spatial
  • Sequenced
  • Compare/contrast
  • Advantage/disadvantage
  • Cause-effect
  • Problem-solution

My article on boosting your vocabulary is sequenced. As a guide, it first explains why writers should build their vocabulary, then moves on to how to go about it. Of course, we find further sequenced steps in the ‘how to’ section, as it’s not a simple process. If there was just one tip involved in remembering vocab, we wouldn’t need such a detailed article. 

The recipe for the perfect macro structure

The keys to getting your base layer right come in the planning stage. 

First, choose the framework that delivers their message in the most palatable and familiar way to readers. 

Once the framework is set, limit the parameters of what the article will and won’t cover. Readers don’t want to eat the whole cake; they only want a slice.

Finally, add all of your ingredients. Effective planning is more than just listing and ordering points. Go one level deeper and plan the subsections and examples you’ll use in your article. Now stir the ingredients into the right order.

Pour your mixture onto the page and bake at 180 degrees. While we wait for our sponge, let’s prepare the next level of writing structure.

Meso structure (the cream)

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The cream holds our layers together, and the frosting covers the naked sponge. But this mid-level structure is what’s often missing from hastily assembled content.

Meso structure is the sentences and phrases which guide readers from one section to another. We need reassurance about where we’ve been and where we’re going.

AI content is particularly bad at including this structure in its writing. That’s why whole sections and paragraphs feel disconnected and entirely separate. As computers cannot understand the prompter’s (or reader’s) intention, they simply cobble together relevant sentences without guiding us from one point to another.

Essentially, linking can go backwards or forwards. Backward links refer to what we’ve read (or what we already know), while forward links often exist at the end of sections, telling the reader what’s coming up.

My vocabulary article includes backward links in the introduction. The third sentence links the readers’ schooling to their current problem of trying to activate new words in another language.

It also uses regular forward links to prepare the reader for the next section. Take this sentence for example: “In this article, we’ll first look at why broadening your vocabulary is a beneficial practice; then we’ll turn our attention to how to do it.”

The recipe for the perfect meso structure

Sprinkle in some forward links and backward links to guide your readers. These can include full sentences, mini conclusions, time expressions, numbers, and sequencing adverbs. 

The best flavour is obtained through variety. Don’t allow the reader to notice overuse of any one method.

Add meso structure during the writing process, but use it sparingly. If every section offers a recap of previous material and tells us what’s coming up, it’s too much. Readers need your guidance, but overzealous frosting can ruin a cake. It’ll make it too sweet!

Micro structure (the decoration)

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The final element which completes our tasty tapestry is the decoration. Micro structure is the small stuff — how we order our sentences to expose our points. Yet, it’s the part of the cake that packs the biggest punch. (Think about eating the cake in the picture. You’d taste the berries more than the rest, right?)

One way to think about micro structure is through an academic argument-building technique. The acronym PEEL is a handy way to ensure effective micro structure.

P = Point.
Clearly state the topic of the paragraph.

E = Explanation
Develop the parameters of the point and clarify if necessary.

E = Evidence
Use examples and empirical evidence to prove your statement.

L = Link
Mini conclusions can show ‘why’ you made this point and ‘how’ it connects to the overall topic.

n.b. Writers can choose which the order of the ‘evidence’ and ‘explanation’, but it certainly makes sense to introduce the point first and conclude with a link to the overall topic.

My article on vocabulary building follows this structure in a paragraph about activating new words.

Point = Practice does not have to equal horrible brain pain. 

Explanation = You don’t have to stare at a list and choose which words to remember and which to forget. 

Evidence = According to a 2018 study published by Oxford Academic Journals, both the left and right hemispheres are used in the process of memorisation.

Link = In short, we remember lexical items best when we use the creative and practical sides of our brains. We must get creative to activate new words.

The recipe for the perfect micro structure

Once your cake is baked, let it cool. You won’t be able to fix the decoration until it’s had time to rest.

After a good amount of time, go back and edit your writing. Check your evidence is the finest quality and get the ingredients of each paragraph in order.

Make sure each point shines with brilliance, and the reader gets to taste the precise nature of your argument. Add linking adverbs to taste and dust your article with a few links back to the main idea.

How to write your cake (and eat it)

To recap, many forms of writing (especially articles) need these three structural elements to offer the best reading experience.

Plan your concept and order your points carefully to build your base layer (macro structure). Next, remember to sprinkle your article with forward and backward links to guide the reader forward (meso structure). And finally, shape each paragraph into sound rhetoric during the editing stage, adding in just enough linking terms to hold together your arguments (micro structure).

And remember to let it cool. Only publish your cake when it’s truly ready. That way, your readers will be sure to ask for another slice.

Philip Charter is a writing coach from the UK who works with multilingual content writers. He is the author of two collections of short fiction and Fifteen Brief Moments in Time, a novella-in-flash.

If you found this useful, check out his other articles and feel free to connect on LinkedIn.