If you are struggling over a speech, or presentation, or article, think of a necklace. What holds it together? In many cases that very expensive necklace depends on a thread worth a few cents.
Without the structure provided by the thread, you have nothing. Your necklace is just a handful of shiny beads. It’s the same with writing. Your words may dance and sparkle. But without structure they ramble into incoherence.
Generally, any piece of writing (any piece of communication) breaks down into four sections:
In our media-saturated, short attention-span world, we have to grab our audience. We have to hook ‘em.
A headline, an image, compelling words, a story – it doesn’t matter what you use. But don’t go fishing without bait on the hook. Work hard on the title, the headline, the opening sentence. Remember, you don’t have long to engage the reader’s attention. Advertisers talk about having between three and seven seconds to catch someone’s attention. That’s somewhere between 10 and 20 words.
Pretty soon the audience will want to know why this matters to them. You need to provide a little context – but not a whole history lesson.
The development is where you’ll start to reel-in your catch. You’ll provide convincing arguments to support your case or your claim: maybe testimonials, perhaps price comparisons.
The conclusion will include a compelling call to action.
Here’s another way of thinking about structure. In the world of copywriters, a device called the Motivating Sequence was popularized by Robert Bly. His system has five elements:
- Get the reader’s attention
- Identify a problem or need
- Offer a solution or answer
- Prove that your solution or answer is best
- Invite action by the reader
Use the four step model or the five step model, depending on your purpose. But plan your writing before you start writing. Without a route map you’ll probably get to your destination – but you’ll waste a lot of time and effort getting sidetracked.
Working out focus and structure takes time. But it’s an investment. It gives you a way of getting to grips with a daunting task.
Neil Everton has distilled a lifetime’s experience with some of the world’s top news organizations into his Media Mastery training aids for anyone worried about talking to reporters. The video, books, e-books and workbooks are available in the Podium Coaching online store.