To understand why one must think about Structure, it helps to consider the reason academic writers do more than simply state their thesis, or knowledge contribution, and leave it at that. Why isn’t it enough to just announce the big idea in clear terms–much the way one is supposed to do in the introduction of an essay, chapter, or article–and count that as a job well done? The answer, of course, is that there is a difference between understanding the broad outlines of a knowledge contribution and really comprehending the nuance and complexity of the knowledge being proposed. Put differently, while a reader can understand an introductory statement quite easily, it takes a lot more to get that reader to have a deep appreciation of the knowable thing that lies behind that statement. For an academic writer, structuring the paragraphs and sections that come after an essay’s introduction has everything to do with the hard work of moving readers beyond a superficial, preliminary understanding of the knowledge being proposed.
Revising your way toward a clear and effective structure is essential because of two inescapable conditions under which your reader is encountering your work:
- Your reader begins from a position of relative ignorance. While readers may come to your piece with some existing knowledge that is relevant, they don’t know nearly as much as you do about the existing scholarly conversation, your original research, the conclusions you’ve reached, the analysis that supports your conclusions, and information you understand to provide necessary context, among other things.
- Your reader can only encounter your work sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, which means that each step has to make sense to them in the absence of all the steps that have not yet taken place in the paper.
As a writer, structural decisions can be challenging because your knowledge contribution makes the most sense to you when you think about it as a complete picture. Consequently, it can be very hard to figure out the right way to break your presentation into a sequence of steps that “adds up” to a complete understanding for your reader. Revision strategies in this section offer ways to distance yourself from the complete understanding in your mind and to better consider the partial and accumulative process of understanding experienced by your reader as a direct result of your draft’s structure.