People who work in the local government sector are swimming in information, which is a heady mix of central government and consultants’ reports, scientific data, climate change forecasts, and public feedback. They need to wade through this sea of documents to write clear, concise advice under tight deadlines.

If you are in this situation, and staring at a blank page, you don’t need to panic. You can use any of these seven structures to speed up your writing process and to tell a compelling story.

Structure is your friend because it:

  • avoids the paralysis of staring at a blank page
  • provides clarity on what content you need to include
  • ensures you write a story that goes somewhere, rather than being a static list of facts or a meandering discussion without a conclusion.

Here are seven ‘off the rack’ story structures* for you to choose from when you need to write a document for which there isn’t a standard structure (such as a report template) in place.

A problem/solution structure describes a problem (and the context for it) and offers a solution.

A case study expands on the problem and solution structure, and is written after the solution has been implemented. You start with the situation, describe the problem, dig a bit deeper into the impact of that problem, then explain what you did to address the problem, what the outcome was, and the impact of the outcome.

A chronological story structure starts with what happened in the past, moves into the present situation, and then concludes with the future direction. (A step-by-step process could also fit within a chronological framework.)

A cause and effect story structure also starts with what has occurred in the past, and then focuses on the effect of that event. An example could be an earthquake in a particular area, and what the impacts were. … or an outbreak of Covid-19 in Auckland and what the response was …

A theory and practice structure could be useful when discussing a district or regional plan review. Here you might start by talking about a policy or an objective and why this was introduced five or 10 years ago, and then you can discuss what changes have occurred as a result of this requirement. You can also reflect on what new evidence is now available, that you didn’t have at the time of setting up the policy.

√ Physical location is another way to structure your content if you are discussing the roll out of regional provisions in different districts, or in different catchments. However, you should avoid writing this evaluation as a list. This can be done by also including what the next steps are in each district or catchment, or for the overall programme.

A pros and cons pattern allows readers to see all sides of an issue. This will show you have thought about all the angles before reaching a conclusion on the preferred option, and explaining why you selected it.

Whichever option you choose, the key thing is to make sure your story has momentum. That means making sure it has an underlying ABT story structure of: this AND this, BUT this, THEREFORE this. In other words, it starts in one place, discusses some kind of change, and then reaches a conclusion.

Please feel welcome to forward this article to anyone you know who needs to present complex information in a clear and concise way. 

(*Thanks to Sport Tasman CEO Nigel Muir for suggesting the development of an ‘off the rack’ range of story structures.)