If you have been travelling to some new place this summer, chances are you will have planned your route before setting off and will have studied the map carefully to find out how to get there. If your destination was a city you had never visited before, you will have explored the city’s map to get a feeling of its layout. How do you get to the city centre? Where are its most important monuments located? How to find that famous restaurant? Most of this information will be in your map and you’ll need it if you want to avoid feeling lost.
The same holds true for any piece of writing. When you hold a thesis or a report in your hands, what you want to get at first is a sense of orientation, a bigger picture. What is the report about? Why should I read it? What can I expect to find in it? You need a map to show you how to get to its core, how to figure out what its most important conclusions are, and how to retrieve any key references cited throughout. Without a proper map to indicate you where to go, you will soon feel lost and unsure about what you are doing in there (metaphorically speaking, of course).
So, now, imagine you are a writer. What do you think your readers will expect? That’s right! They’ll want a map. So, how do you provide one? There are various things you can do. Here are just some ideas:
- Include a Table of Content. Whether your script is a 6-page document or a 150-page PhD thesis, a ToC will be extremely useful to see at once where to find what.
- Use sections and sub-sections. These do not have to be pages and pages long. It is enough to make sure they have a core message that justifies a dedicated section or sub-section to it.
- Choose titles wisely. Ideally, short is better, but there is no point in having something like “Introduction”, “Methods”, “Data Analysis”, or similar even if this is precisely what the sections/chapters are about. Use titles that are more specific to the content they refer to and make them more interesting and engaging to your reader.
- Highlight key concepts, as appropriate. Here you are spoilt for choice: underline, use bold typeface, frame in boxes,
basically anything that makes the concept stand out.
- Spell out the conclusions of what you have been presenting thus far. Again, this can be achieved visually by using a stand-alone paragraph, maybe in italics and possibly preceded by its obvious signpost conclusions:
- Does your investigation still leave open questions? Group them all in an outstanding issues paragraph.
- Use pictures, plots, graphs, and tables wherever possible and make sure they are clear and informative and can stand alone (without your reader having to go through the entire text to find out what they are about).
By now, the bottom line of this post should be clear:
Do everything you can to make sure your reader does not have to think too much or look too hard to find out the information he is after.
Ultimately, if he likes the place and knows how to get there, chances are (s)he’ll come back for more.
What elements do you use to map out your writing? Leave a reply and share with us.