Structure, Structure, Structure!

The ultimate impact of your writing has a lot to do with structure—the way that your information is organized. You might have a thousand juicy facts, stories, and quotes for your book. But without a framework, they’re toast.


In his masterful book about making a living from your ideas, John Butman uses the term framework to describe how books are structured. He defines a framework as:

… a limited number of key elements that are basically descriptive in nature, such as principles, characteristics, parts, or themes. A framework may also include a number of elements that are more prescriptive, such as strategies, methods, rules, and the like.

Powerful frameworks can burn your ideas into the collective mind and boost the impact of your work. Even if your ideas are not wildly original, giving them a memorable framework can lead to a breakout book.

For examples of the power of frameworks, consider:

Frameworks are created and discovered

One reason for keeping a commonplace book is to experiment with frameworks for your ideas until you find one that fits.

The challenge is that frameworks can be hard to create. They result from a mysterious dance between discovery and intention.

Sometimes you impose a framework on information.

Sometimes you just let the framework emerge organically after months or years of immersion in a topic.

And often it’s a combination of these two methods.

Start with the “five ultimate hat racks”

Information Anxiety by Richard Saul Wurman includes a sentence that makes me cheer:

While information may be infinite, the ways of structuring it are not.

In fact, Wurman reduces the options to a handful of structures—the “five ultimate hat racks”:

  • Category
  • Time
  • Location
  • Continuum
  • Alphabet

He gives these examples:

If you were preparing a report on the automobile industry, you could organize cars by model (category), year (time), place of manufacture (location), or Consumer Reports rating (continuum). Within each, you might list them alphabetically.

In the five ultimate hat racks is a path to freedom from information overload and to structures that resonate with your audience.

One of my goals is to create a meta-framework for idea entrepreneurs—a “framework of frameworks” that you can to turn to for structuring ideas. I’ve got several up my sleeve. Look for more details in future posts.


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