It was 10:38pm. At night. A cold night with the wind howling and the rain splashing the windows. Somewhat violently, if my memory serves me correctly.
The phone rang.
This is unexpected.
It rang again.
Seriously? Do people really still do that?
After I hung up I stood there for a moment, shaking my head. Apparently, they do.
This is 2012 and kids still ring strangers and ask is Mr Wall in? Perhaps Mrs Wall is there? No? No walls?
Houses have it; phone calls have it; thankfully, the chair I’m sitting on has one. We can’t avoid structure. Even abstract concepts like love have a structure. It might not have the same structure each time or be the same structure for everyone, but there’s a structure.
The glance; the flit of the eyes; the smile …
The conversation; the I can’t stop thinking about him/her; the humming around the house (and on the bus and at the shop); the weight loss; the hunger; the disappointment; the grief; the anger …
The presentation; the I must speak with that (very cute) young man; the constantly being impressed with his thinking, but he’s so young; the happy realisation that within the young man’s exterior there beats the heart of an old man; the living happily ever after.
Structure. Everything has structure.
Even writing. Particularly writing. More particularly, academic writing. Let’s take a book chapter as an example.
Editors provide an outline of what is to be included. Much like the task description of a university assignment. Editors also provide a style guide, just like the ones provided to university students. While there isn’t a marking guide, editors send the completed (draft) chapter to reviewers (markers) who review (mark) the chapter and write comments (feedback) all over it. Who pick it to pieces. Who write quite unhelpful, often contradictory, feedback: the literature review does not capture the writing of (insert name of reviewer 1 here); the literature review is extensive. The lack of a theoretical framework is a weakness of the chapter; the theoretical framework is clearly articulated.
The draft chapter is returned (generally within a year of submission), the authors cry a little at the hurtful feedback provided by reviewer 1, and then re-work the chapter.
Sharon, interjects Tim, you’re supposed to be writing about structure. Oh yes.
Some structures are not good.
Many people view a dictatorship as a poor structure for a civil society.
Some building structures aren’t well thought-through … I’ve seen many student assignments that have all the pieces, but they’re simply in the wrong place.
When a structure works well, the chapter/assignment/blog post is a delight to read. It works. It makes sense. You can feel confident that when you walk out the door you’ll step onto a floor at roughly the same level, rather than plummet to an untidy injury.
This post was supposed to be about writing to a structure and why I find that so challenging.
The truth is, and this might come as a surprise to some of you, I don’t think in a structured way. When I first sat down to write this post the computer was having conniptions, and so while it sorted itself out I started writing by hand. I had an idea that I didn’t want floating away to the dark recesses of my mind, and so to capture it I wrote it down. My first sentence was: Structure is a fundamental aspect of academic writing.
I drew a line under that and wrote another first sentence: Structure is important … and that’s as far as I got because I bored myself to sleep.
Then I wrote: Imagine if the chair you’re sitting in had no stru …
But that brought to mind the story of the walls … the late night phone call. By the way, they hadn’t enough nous to hide their number, so did they get a shock the next night!!
I create as I go (well, create is a strong word), but I refine and edit and delete and include and structure as I go. And that’s fine for this kind of writing (where I’m perhaps amusing or entertaining or just being a bit silly) but that’s not okay for writing chapters – or university assignments for that matter.
Good question, Jill/Amanda/Wendy/Glynis/Mandy/Alison/every student I’ve ever taught!
So there you have it. A seemingly unstructured post on the importance of structure.
Tomorrow’s challenge is my voice as an academic.