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Style Manual

Narrative structure

Narrative structure can suit long-form content, like technical writing or academic journals. Users expect a beginning, middle and end.

Use narrative structure for long-form content

Narrative structure is common in reports, books and technical writing. It generally works better for long-form content than it does for digital content in HTML. This structure is used with some success in long-form blogs.

Narrative structure starts with general statements about the topic. The middle explains or discusses new ideas. The conclusion summarises the main ideas and makes recommendations.

This structure can cause people to miss important ideas:

  • The main points are not easy to find.
  • People usually need to read from beginning to end to understand the context, even if there is only one main thing they need from the content.

To help users, you can summarise the main findings in the introduction.

Write a beginning, middle and end

Narrative structure has:

  • a beginning – the introduction
  • a middle – the arguments, discussions and explanations
  • an end – conclusion or recommendations.

Signpost each part with headings.

Academic writing also uses this structure. It starts with an introduction, followed by the methods, a discussion and conclusion.

An abstract summarises the article in many academic journals. People tend to read the abstract and the conclusion of a research paper first, before they decide if they want to read the whole paper.

Release notes

The digital edition material on narrative structure is new. It does not mention linear and non-linear structures.

The sixth edition had advice on linear and non-linear structures. It did not mention narrative structure.

The Content Guide did not cover this topic.

About this page

References

Dixon JC and Bolitho B (2005–2019) Report writing, Centre for Continuing Education, Australian National University, Canberra.

Moran K (5 April 2020) ‘How people read online: new and old findings’, Nielsen Norman Group, accessed 30 May 2020.

Schade A (1 February 2015) ‘The fold manifesto: why the page fold still matters’, Nielsen Norman Group, accessed 30 May 2020.

Shibata H and Hori K (2005) ‘Cognitive support for the organization of writing’, New Generation Computing, 26(2):97–124, doi:10.1007/s00354-008-0037-9.

This page was updated Tuesday 29 September 2020.

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