Writing for design students, part 1: A pattern for structured writing

One plus five sentences

Write six informal and direct sentences. The purpose of this is to give structure to your thinking about your topic, and stop you from writing endless prose that you need to edit down later. Try to answer these questions:

  1. What are you writing about?
  2. Why is this an interesting thing to write about?
  3. In which environment does this thing happen?
  4. How can you describe it so that the interesting aspects are obvious?
  5. What patterns and meaning emerge from this description?
  6. What are the wider implications of all this?

1. Introduction

Introduce the topic, its context, and what is important/interesting about it for the readers. If there are key events / persons involved, then outline them here. Introduce the key research question(s). By the end of this section the methodology you will be following should be evident; you should also have explained any key terms that are part of your topic.

2. Context

Describe the knowledge domains your topic takes place in. This may include other research literature, explanations of specific techniques, technologies, materials, and so on. Cover geographical, social, and historical information that is important for understanding the research questions. Depending on the topic, you may be describing archival material, or things that are too recent to have been documented much (e.g. interfaces).

3. Subject

Describe your specific topic in depth, highlighting the aspects that relate to your main research question.

4. Analysis

Describe the patterns that emerge across your subject matter, along the thematic axes you have described in the previous sections. Focus on trends and changes, and identify the factors that motivate these, to the degree allowed by the facts you described already. Reveal different aspects of your subject (e.g. make connections across knowledge domains: trade, technology, law, culture, and so on).

5. Discussion

Extend the ideas you described in section 4, and synthesise your observations into clear statements. Identify any limitations of your methodology, and any notable problems (or promise) with your observations. Consider whether you can extract more generalised principles from your analysis, and express these into hypotheses for further research.

6. Conclusion

Recapitulate the key points from your observations, and discuss the impact of your research on practice, or related studies.

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opinionated typographer

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