Dad and daughter writing

Structure vs. Formula

Structure is the key to writing essays that are understandable and coherent. Students must understand their primary idea and supporting evidence in order to remain focused in their writing. Yet, teaching structure is difficult because it must not be formulaic. Sure, every paragraph should have a topic sentence, but how one supports that topic sentence should vary. Variety makes things interesting, which is why it is important that students understand structure vs. formula. 


The Formulaic Approach

Teaching writing formulas may be advantageous to beginning writers who struggle with confidence and word flow. Practicing a writing “formula" can exercise the writer's mind and allow him or her to practice different writing options such as paraphrasing and quotes.  Teaching the formulaic approach should only be used in pre-writing or writing exercises. When it comes time to write an actual essay, these formulas should be broken into pieces that allow the writer to pick and choose the writing tools that best fit the writing assignment. 


The Structured Approach

The structured approach is not in opposition to the formulaic approach, but it is more in line with the essence of writing. If writing was meant to be formulaic, anyone could do it and it would not be an art. Instead, the ability to combine a multitude of language elements is what makes writing unique and appealing to readers. 


Stream-of-consciousness writing is an example of what happens when you remove structure, and it results in writing that is haphazard, frenzied, and scattered like a wandering mind. While this occasionally results in interesting streams of consciousness, it more often amounts to disorganized and difficult-to-follow thoughts on a page. 


Somewhere in between stream-of-consciousness and formulaic writing lies structured writing. It is restrained by necessary rules and recommended patterns. However, it retains its freedom of choice and artistic expression. Structured writing is surprising but palatable because it allows the writer to craft his or her ideas without any limitations other than the writing basics that make essays understandable. 


Understanding the Structured Approach

It is difficult to get students to accept structure in a world filled with online writing that is increasingly unstructured, but teaching students the difference between structure vs. formula will help them cherish the freedom that structured writing provides. The structured approach to writing affords writers the opportunity to use the many language tools available to shape their ideas into effective messages, resulting in the audience being easily able to understand the voices of the writers.  


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