How to structure a chapter in non-fiction writing


In an information economy, getting our point across is more important than ever

The world is exploding with information. The technology we have allows us to create more information more quickly and cheaply than ever before. And this is not a good thing.

The more we have, the more we need to sort. Or avoid. What we’re getting very good at – and the technology even better at – is filtering information to try and focus on what we think is relevant.

As a result, when we do get a chance to speak with someone else, we need to make our point quickly and clearly – and this applies for a blog post, sales message or a chapter in a non-fiction book.

Structure helps us set out our points clearly

Writing that is easy to read doesn’t happen by accident. There is a structure behind it – one that is invisible if the writing is well done.

We know what is good when we read it. And we also know when something doesn’t work. Almost always, the thing that doesn’t work is a lack of structure.

One approach to tighten things up is to use a structure funnel. Start with general statements supported by specific ones that lead step by step to your point – the thesis statement.

We need to introduce concepts in the right order for them to resonate with the reader

Rudyard Kipling’s poem has the names of his six honest helpers, who taught him all he knew: What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.

Three of them, what, why and how are important in a non-fiction chapter.

What will the reader learn to do, why is it important and how are the steps that the reader needs to follow set out?

The order in which they are introduced depends on the point you want to make – but the how usually comes after the what and the why.

Facts and figures – evidence – show that we have a reasoned and logical argument

An accountant at a job interview was asked to work out the taxable profit due given a set of figures. The candidate got up, shut the door, stepped close to the interviewer and in a low voice said, “What do you want it to be?”

Numbers can be deceptive. But not using them can be disastrous. We like to see evidence for statements – proof that supports why an assertion should be believed.

89% of readers say that they don’t believe everything they read. The remaining 11% say they don’t read.

Telling stories and anecdotes creates pictures in the reader’s mind

Facts alone are dry, and reason and logic doesn’t change minds.

If someone has a point of view, no amount of logical reasoning will get them to change their opinion and back down.

Telling a story, however, can get them to see how someone else approached a situation. It might unlock feelings and emotions, evoke memories and associations that don’t come out any other way.

It’s one thing to read a list of benefits of being self employed. It’s another to imagine how different the day of a person is who has control over when and how work gets done.

A well designed chapter is a self contained block of goodness

A non-fiction chapter holds a thought – the answer to a question the reader might have.

You should be able to set out that answer in a few sentences – the subheadings of the chapter – that move from a general statement to specific points to end at your thesis statement.

The statements you write need to help the reader understand what is going to be explained, why it is important and how it works.

You need to sprinkle your sentences with facts and figures and build in stories to persuade the reader to believe in what you are writing.

The end result will be a well-designed chapter that takes the reader from beginning to end without getting lost or confused.

The test your chapter needs to pass is whether the reader found it easy to read or not – and you need to revise and rewrite until it passes that test.

2 Replies to “How to structure a chapter in non-fiction writing”

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