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I used to write a lot when I was younger, and I like to think that I was even decent at it. It's been years since I've tried to write anything other than code, though. I'm quite out of practice, and have found that my writing is very unstructured and chaotic.

When it comes to blog posts, or journal entries, is it alright for them to be completely informal, and lacking of any real paragraphical structure?

An example of this can be found here.

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There is a word for the kind of "structureless" writing you employ, it is the French word essai. An essai is quite the opposite of what English-speaking pupils learn to produce for their teachers, despite the fact that the name of the English school essay is derived from the French form.

Where the English essay has a prescribed structure, a clear topic, and must be concise, precise, and to the point, the French essai follows the (apparently) aimless meandering of the writer's mind. An essai, as the name implies1, is an attempt at self-reflection, an attempt to encircle a topic to uncover its truth. As such, it is only seemingly aimless, much like the convoluted path of a person searching the woods for a lost key: purposeful, yet disorganized. But no, that is not true. The essai reflects the chain of associations of the writer, and as such brings to light the order of his or her mind.

The "inventor", if you so will, of the essai is Michel de Montaigne, and you might enjoy reading one or two of his essais to see what he did. For a famous contemporary, look at John Scalzi's blog.


1 essai, french trial, attempt

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Remember that experiment you did back in grade school with the iron filings and the magnet. I think that is a good illustration of how a good piece of writing works. It is not that everything lines up neatly in rows and columns like a database or a spreadsheet. And it is not that all the elements are aligned in the same direction. It is that when you step back and look at the larger pattern, a structure emerges that forms a whole, a unity.

That is what you should be trying to achieve when you write. You may come at the same idea from different angles and with different techniques, but in the end it all flows together towards a central point of idea, like the iron filings, though they individually point in different directions, all forming part of a harmonious pattern around the head of the magnet, which, taken together, tells you something important about the nature of magnetic fields.

That what good writing is, a collection of ideas and images that cluster round a central point and illustrate its nature, its shape, and its importance.

Without that, a reader will get to the end of your post (if they get to the end) and not know what they have read. But they probably won't get to the end because they will sense long before that that these pieces are not aligning in any intelligible pattern and will stop reading.

And that is the other part of good structure in a text: it has to reveal itself progressively, not just at the end when all is finished, both because the reader will get bored if they do not see a structured developing, and because the reader cannot keep all the elements of a structure in their head as they read, waiting for it all to come together at the end.

This is a big part of the reason for the classical basic structure that says, first tell them what you are going to say, then say it, then tell them what you have said. It is all about making sure that the reader can see the structure emerging as they read.

In short, structure is essential.

  • Very well written answer. I'll take it to heart. It's been a while since I've tried writing anything, and this is great advice. – ndugger Jan 5 '17 at 15:57

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