How I Structure My Writing

Ayu asked how I write more than 1,000 words on a topic, and the short answer is practice. I was lucky to go through schooling that focused on writing from an early age. I lost count of how many research papers I’ve written a long time ago. When I reached college, I spent most of my semesters involved in psychological research, and with that, writing APA format papers. I am an author on the research paper “How are Perceived Stigma, Self-Stigma, and Self-Reliance Related to Treatment-Seeking? A Three-Path Model” published in the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal in June 2014.

The long answer, the one which applies to writing technical blogs, boils down to how I structure my writing. I no longer strictly follow the method I’ll describe here, because you learn the rules to know how to break them. However, whenever I get stuck, this is what I return to. What follows is how to write a 3–3–11 paragraph, an essay based off that structure, and how to apply it to technical blogs.

A Paragraph

The method I was taught in school was 3–3–11 paragraphs. In a single paragraph, that means you have a thesis statement with three points, 3 sentences about each point, and then a summary/clincher/ending sentence.

For example, let’s say I want to write about the 8 limbs of yoga. Specifically, I choose why practicing one of the niyamas, svadhyaya, is beneficial.

First, I start with my thesis sentence: Svadhyaya, or self-study, is one of the most important niyamas, because it makes it easier to practice other niyamas, helps a yogi identify and break samskaras, and teaches us to be centered and non-reactive.

Then I’d write 3 sentences about how it makes it easier to practice other niyamas, 3 sentences about how it helps a yogi identify and break samaskaras, and 3 sentences about how it teaches us to be centered and non-reactive.

Finally, I’d end my paragraph with a summary sentence: By striving to practice svadhyaya more often, a yogi can further their goals on and off the mat much more quickly than they would without this cultivated self-awareness.

An Essay

In longer essays, the structure of paragraphs is less rigid. An essay is comprised of a thesis paragraph, one or more paragraphs about each of the points in the thesis paragraph, and a conclusion paragraph. My example paragraph before could easily be 1 of 5 paragraphs in an essay about the niyamas. In that case, I’d start with a thesis paragraph where I describe the 5 niyamas.

If I wanted to turn the thesis sentence from the last section into a thesis paragraph for an essay, it would look like this:

One of the 8 limbs of yoga, niyamas, is described as rules, guidelines, or observances. Of the five niyamas, I would argue Svadhyaya is the most important. Usually translated as self-study or self-reflection, it is the practice of self-awareness and self-inquiry. Put into practice, svadhyaya helps a yogi practice the other niyamas — saucha, santosha, tapas, and ishvara pranidhana. Self-study makes it easier to identify samskaras, also known as behavioral patterns, subconscious or otherwise. Finally, through self-study we can become conscious of our own reactivity and attachments. By striving to incorporate more svadhyaya into everyday life, a yogi can further their goals on and off the mat much more quickly than they would without this cultivated self-awareness.

Then, I’d have a paragraph or paragraphs about each of the three points I made. Each of these paragraphs could follow the 3–3–11 format on their own. The paragraph about “Put into practice, svadhyaya helps a yogi practice the other niyamas — saucha, santosha, tapas, and ishvara pranidhana.” would start with a thesis sentence like “Practicing each of the other niyamas gets easier when you are practicing svadhyaya.”

Technical Blogs

This method is easily applied to a technical blog covering why a concept is important or why you would recommend a technology, but what about tutorials and walkthroughs?

I find the main benefit of the 3–3–11 method is making you think about your main points. Once you are able to take a topic and boil it down into the main points you want to convey, you can write about as much or as little as you want.

For tutorials, the thesis paragraph describes the final outcome I’m trying to achieve. Then, I write a paragraph or section of paragraphs about each step I take as I complete the project. After I finish the project, I go back through each step section. The shortest sentence I could write to describe the step would be the thesis sentence. I write sentences to elaborate on that thesis by making sure that anything a person would need to know to complete that step is included in that section. This means one step describes not only the code I used and why, but also any steps I had to take to get the information necessary to complete it. On the flip side, I also make sure the steps are in an easy to follow order and try to make sure I’m only conveying relevant information.

Walkthroughs I treat similarly, but also like a journal. I write down everything as I go. I spend less effort on making sure it is an easy to follow step by step process. This is probably why my walkthrough blogs are by far the longest. They’re more focused on showing that coding rarely follows a linear process.

Because of the nature of technical blogging, when a blog gets longer than a few hundred words, it may be better to turn the intro section/thesis paragraph into a table of contents with a link to the heading of each section. I think of headings as a thesis sentence boiled down into one to five words.

Conclusion

Ultimately, this was a long explanation of the way I get an idea of something to write about, break it down into its main points, and elaborate on each of the points. If you are left with questions about this method or other parts of my writing, please don’t hesitate to ask!

…did someone say animated CSS button?