I’ve started reading an insightful book by Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times—called Easternisation: War and Peace in the Asian Century—that provides a great example of the importance of structure in driving compelling writing.
The book starts with a blurb summing up the argument in two sentences: ‘The West’s domination of world politics is coming to a close. The flow of wealth and power is turning from West to East and a new era of global instability has begun.’
The text itself begins with a telling anecdote—a great way to capture a reader’s attention by engaging emotion as well as intellect. Rachman describes his 2013 visit to the Great Hall of the People in Beijing for an audience with President Xi Jinping. He describes how Xi raised the point that China’s ancient civilisation spans over 5000 years of history. With this anecdote Rachman illustrates Xi’s determination to rebuild China’s wealth and power, already beginning to substantiate the thesis of his book as promised in the blurb.
He argues that this is a pivotal point in world history: after 500 years of Western dominance, the East is gaining increasing economic and political power.
Rachman expands on this thesis with a brief survey of world history from the 1400s, when the power of China and the Islamic world was at least as great as that of Europe.
Now the balance is shifting back to Asia. One sign of the changing balance was the announcement by the IMF in 2014 that China had become the world’s largest economy, measured as indicated by purchasing power.
This may seem a familiar, even trite, argument. Even so, Rachman’s telling of it is compelling. His writing rests on a clear and effective structure: anecdotes make important broad analytical points, and a simple chronology allows for a broad presentation of analytical points. This structure then leads into a sequential development of analysis that results in a compelling argument.
That’s the broad structure. Beyond the effectiveness of this layout, each paragraph is a carefully structured, beginning with a single sentence summing up the main point of the paragraph: a topic sentence. Sometimes it’s an analytical point, sometimes an anecdote, sometimes a conversational comment; in each case, however, that first sentence tells you what the rest of the paragraph is about.
When you come across a book or article that grabs your attention, stand back for a moment and think about how its structure helps it succeed. The structure won’t always follow the pattern of Rachman’s book, but in any successful book—fiction, non-fiction, lyrical or narrative—the structure is always crucial in supporting its broader purpose.
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