Here are a few suggestions to help you structure difficult academic content when blogging for general interest readers.
In this blog post I show that signposting serves two functions.
- It prepares the reader to understand ideas by warning them of the road ahead.
- It helps the writer to see whether their article presents a coherent, unified whole.
Unity and signposting make academic writing more accessible to general interest readers.
What are signposts in academic blogging?
Titles, subtitles, first paragraphs, subheadings, and topic sentences act as signposts, giving the reader a clear outline of an article’s argument and content.
Inserting signposts helps writers to test whether articles are clearly structured. If writing signposts feels impossible, it indicates that a blog post may be muddled. If signposting is easy, it suggests that the article is fairly well organised.
Ask yourself the ten questions below, but only after writing the first or second draft of a blog post. Be sure to get content on paper before shaping it.
10 questions about signposting academic content
In a title of 10-15 words can you tell the reader what the blog post is about?
If you can’t summarise your blog post in a headline, it may be because you have more work to do on structure and content.
There are three more good reasons to write titles that clearly represent article content.
- A clear headline helps the reader to decide whether to read the article.
- A clear headline gives the reader the information they need to prepare to understand the article.
- A clear headline is good SEO and helpful for displaying articles on social media.
Can you summarise the article’s argument/content in a subtitle of 26 words?
Again, if you can’t summarise your article in 26 words it may be a sign that the content is too diffuse and scattered.
When an article is shared on social media, often only the featured photo, title, and subtitle are visible. Good subtitling increases shareability.
Can a reader understand the gist of the article from the first three paragraphs?
If you can’t summarise an article’s gist in three paragraphs, the article may be covering too many subjects.
Summary introductions also help readers to decide whether to read on.
Can you summarise the argument/content of each section in a subheading of 10 to 15 words?
Difficulty with deciding on subheadings can mean that a section does not have a clear focus. Look at whether you need to divide a section or move material to another one.
Is there content in a section that is irrelevant to the section subheading?
If “yes,” you may need to move or delete content.
Could a reader understand the outline of your argument/content by reading only the subheadings?
Being able to summarise content in a series of subheadings suggests that an article is very well organised. This kind of clear signposting is great because it helps readers to understand difficult content.
Are paragraphs on one subject only?
A paragraph shouldn’t be about more than one subject. Try reading text that hasn’t been divided into paragraphs. Then you’ll see why!
Do paragraphs begin with topic sentences? (Topic sentences tell readers what paragraphs are about.)
A paragraph that can’t be introduced in a topic sentence may contain too many topics.
If a reader reads only the topic sentences, will they understand the outline of the article?
Topic sentences are not subheadings, but they signpost in a similar way.
Write a list of all your topic sentences. Do they give an outline of your article? Can you improve your writing by reordering them?
Are any of your sentences on more than one topic?
When writing on complex subjects stick with single topic sentences. Leave the multi-topic sentences to Charles Dickens.