A text structure is the framework of a text’s beginning, middle, and end. Different narrative and expository genres have different purposes and different audiences, and so they require different text structures. Beginnings and endings help link the text into a coherent whole.
BEGINNINGS: HOOKING YOUR READER
Where to begin is a crucial decision for a writer. Just as a good beginning can draw a reader into a piece of writing, a mediocre beginning can discourage a reader from reading further. The beginning, also called the lead or the hook, orients the reader to the purpose of the writing by introducing characters or setting (for narrative) or the topic, thesis, or argument (for expository writing). A good beginning also sets up expectations for the purpose, style, and mood of the piece. Good writers know how to hook their readers in the opening sentences and paragraphs by using techniques such as dialogue, flashback, description, inner thoughts, and jumping right into the action.
WHAT’S IN THE MIDDLE?
The organization of the middle of a piece of writing depends on the genre. Researchers have identified five basic organizational structures: sequence, description, cause and effect, compare and contrast, and problem and solution.
Sequence uses time, numerical, or spatial order as the organizing structure. Some narrative genres that use a chronological sequence structure are personal narrative genres (memoir, autobiographical incident, autobiography), imaginative story genres (fairytales, folktales, fantasy, science fiction), and realistic fiction genres. Narrative story structures include an initiating event, complicating actions that build to a high point, and a resolution. Many narratives also include the protagonist’s goals and obstacles that must be overcome to achieve those goals.
Description is used to describe the characteristic features and events of a specific subject (”My Cat”) or a general category (”Cats”). Descriptive reports may be arranged according to categories of related attributes, moving from general categories of features to specific attributes.
Cause and Effect structure is used to show causal relationships between events. Essays demonstrate cause and effect by giving reasons to support relationships, using the word “because.” Signal words for cause and effect structures also include if/then statements, “as a result,” and “therefore.”
Comparison and Contrast structure is used to explain how two or more objects, events, or positions in an argument are similar or different. Graphic organizers such as venn diagrams, compare/contrast organizers, and tables can be used to compare features across different categories. Words used to signal comparison and contrast organizational structures include “same,” “alike,” “in contrast,” “similarities,” “differences,” and “on the other hand.”
Problem and Solution requires writers to state a problem and come up with a solution. Although problem/solution structures are typically found in informational writing, realistic fiction also often uses a problem/solution structure.
ENDINGS: BEYOND “HAPPILY EVER AFTER”
Anyone who has watched a great movie for ninety minutes only to have it limp to the finish with weak ending knows that strong endings are just as critical to effective writing as strong beginnings. And anyone who has watched the director’s cut of a movie with all the alternate endings knows that even great directors have trouble coming up with satisfying endings for their movies. Just like directors, writers have to decide how to wrap up the action in their stories, resolving the conflict and tying up loose ends in a way that will leave their audience satisfied.
The type of ending an author chooses depends on his or her purpose. When the purpose is to entertain, endings may be happy or tragic, or a surprise ending may provide a twist. Endings can be circular, looping back to the beginning so readers end where they began, or they can leave the reader hanging, wishing for more. Endings can be deliberately ambiguous or ironic, designed to make the reader think, or they can explicitly state the moral of the story, telling the reader what to think. Strong endings for expository texts can summarize the highlights, restate the main points, or end with a final zinger statement to drive home the main point to the audience.