Sometimes, to achieve reader-friendly structure, we have to consciously switch from indulging our own needs to meeting those of our readers.
What does *your* paper contribute to what we already know?
What about your setting matters for the empirical strategy?
What is your most interesting finding?
I need to describe Papers A, B and C before I talk about my work.
I have to describe my institutional setting in great detail.
I want to describe findings from the 20 analyses I did.
Skim through your draft and check: how easy is it for readers to find answers to their questions? Are the answers buried deep in sections or paragraphs? If so, the structure probably isn't meeting your readers' needs. For example, what do you think of this paragraph:
We first find that X increases A by 12 percent and B by 5.3 percent. This is slightly lower than previous findings of 13 percent (DeBeers, 2005) and 6.2 percent (Zaveri, 2003), respectively. The effect of Y, while statistically significant, is not different from zero. This is in line with previous estimates in the literature. But the most interesting finding relates to hours worked. Importantly, we find that when hours worked increase by 10 percent, A increases by 43 percent and B increases by 20 percent. These findings are significantly higher than previous findings. We argue that this is for two reasons. The first reason is that most studies do not use data across industries. In the literature, hours worked are found to increase A by 12 percent at most and B by 6 percent. Our finding on the effect of hours worked is therefore interesting both from theoretical and policy perspectives.
The structure of this paragraph is not reader friendly. It may work for the writer. But the answer to the reader's most urgent question is buried in the paragraph.
Making the shift
The first step in shifting to a more reader-friendly structure, is articulating the reader's needs. For instance, here are some questions readers need answers to in the Introduction of a paper.
o What is your empirical strategy? What key insight does it rely on?
o What is your methodology?
o What data do you use and why?
o What are the implications of this paper?
o Why is this a useful paper?
o How does it add value to the literature?
o What is the key idea that is new?
o Why are these assumptions reasonable?
o How do these results matter?
o Why do we need a model of this?
o What do we learn from this exercise?
o How does it differ from paper X?
Try framing 1-sentence answers to each question and then put those answers in the Introduction where readers won't miss them.
Post by Varanya Chaubey Image by Edmund Leighton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons PD-US