How to structure authoritative content for greatness
Last Updated Apr 03, 2023
José M. Duque
Table of Contents
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been talking about the importance of producing high-quality content. But this requires more than just authenticity and authority. Your content also needs to be structured effectively. If you don’t pay attention to structure, your content might be less impactful than you’d like. Writing a well-laid-out blog post is a bit more complicated than the five-paragraph essays that our high-school English teachers loved so much. Today, we’re going to look at how you can structure your content for success.
What is the structure of a great article?
There are seven factors that you should consider when structuring your article: a strong headline, a nutshell paragraph, a logical flow, quotes and anecdotes, supporting evidence, visual aids, and finally, a conclusion. Don’t worry, we’ll talk about each element in turn.
What makes a strong headline?
You’ve probably heard the expression, “you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.” Well, your headline is essentially your first impression. Your readers are busy people, and the internet is awash with content for them to consume. If your headline doesn’t pique their interest, they’re liable to move on to that adorable cat video their best friend sent them. You need to grab their attention and make them want to read more. While there’s no surefire formula, you might consider using an open-ended question (“Have we got ancient Egypt’s mummies all wrong?”) Including dates and figures can help as well (“7 best new RPGs coming out in 2023”). For more headline-writing tips, check out this post by Ryan Robinson.
One thing you should not do, however, is resort to the kind of gimmicks that are used in clickbait. The problem with this approach is that, while it can certainly grab attention, it almost always leaves the reader feeling unfulfilled when the content doesn’t live up to the hype generated by the headline. In other words, don’t make promises your content can’t deliver.
How do you summarize your point in a nutshell?
Back in high school, your teachers probably told you that you needed to have a thesis statement at the end of your introductory paragraph. You needed to explain to the reader what you were hoping to achieve with your piece. A nutshell paragraph (also known as a ‘nut graf’) is a slightly more elaborate version of a thesis statement, and it also serves as a sort of road map that lets your reader know the points you’ll be touching upon along the way. In the words of Chip Scanlan, “[t]he nut graf tells the reader what the writer is up to; it delivers a promise of the story’s content and message. It’s called the nut graf because, like a nut, it contains the ‘kernel,’ or essential theme, of the story.”
This might seem obvious, but every paragraph in your content should flow logically from the one before it. Now this doesn’t mean you can’t have some digressions or amplifications along the way, but ultimately each paragraph should have a clear connection to your introduction. The nutshell paragraph can come in handy here, as it can help you stay on track. The Writers’ College Times has some great advice on how to ensure your content flows logically.
Why should you use quotes and anecdotes in great content?
Quotes and anecdotes are like spices. Used judiciously, they can liven up your prose. But just as you (probably) wouldn’t want to dump several tablespoons of cayenne pepper into your scrambled eggs, you want to make sure you aren’t over-relying on quotes and anecdotes. After all, you’re supposed to be writing your thoughts on a topic.
In the BBC’s article about mummies mentioned above, the writer included a number of quotes from the curator of the museum that’s hosting the exhibit. The author could’ve simply recited a list of facts about the objects on display, but since the bulk of the BBC’s readership is unlikely to be well-versed in Egyptology, this approach likely would’ve fallen flat. The quotes from the curator allow the journalist to provide specialist information for a non-specialist audience in a way that’s engaging. They also help readers understand why they should bother going to see the exhibit in the first place.
If you’ve ever taken a creative writing class, you’ve probably been admonished to “show, don’t tell.” But this isn’t just a concern for writers of fiction. On the contrary, it’s good advice for any writer. If all you do is make a bald pronouncement, you’re unlikely to convince anyone who doesn’t already share your beliefs.
Let’s say you’re writing a review of a new computer game that you haven’t particularly enjoyed. You could simply say “it sucks” and leave it at that, but that kind of lightweight commentary has all the intellectual heft of a tissue. You’d be better off explaining why you think the game sucks. Explain how the limited number of skills available to each character means there isn’t much build diversity, or point out how the villain’s habit of taunting the player every five minutes robbed the narrative of genuine suspense. If you offer a reasoned critique instead of simply venting your spleen, your content is likely to be taken a lot more seriously. For a look at how some of Newstex’s publishers use original research in their content, check out this post.
Given the plethora of content on the web, it’s absolutely vital that you make your point as effectively as possible. There are many demands on your audience’s time, and they’re likely to lose patience if your content is disjointed or confusing. But if you pay attention to the seven factors we discussed above, you can present your insights in a way that will capture your audience’s attention.