It’s obvious that an article of any kind has to be about something. What is less clear is that good writing is about one thing, and one thing alone. This can be called “Unity”, or a strong clarity of topic for each article.
One of the most common mistakes on the Internet is to produce a “brain dump” of everything that comes to the writer’s mind in stream of consciousness. This often takes the form of a “rant” or a trip on the writer’s train of thought. These may be cathartic and fun to write, but they are rarely any fun to read – or in any way useful. This does not mean that difficult topics do not work well on the Internet because the craft, not the topic, is what is critical.
Organization is often what drives Unity. Every article, no matter how short, needs to have a strong opening, supporting information, and a clear conclusion. That’s not to say that you have to stay with the standard “Five Paragraph Theme” that you may heave learned in school. Three sentences may be enough to introduce a topic, offer a link, and explain why the link is a good one to follow. An opening question might be a good way to introduce your topic if it’s a question your readers are likely to ask.
You may want to write the introduction after you’ve written the piece. Novices often write freestyle for their first pass, saving the opening for later. That’s fine if it helps you get thoughts out of your head, but it may not produce something worth publishing. Watch the organization, especially if you go back to write your opening statement last. What is this about?
The first lesson on Unity is a simple one – don’t be afraid to completely throw out your first draft. That means that you have to be able to read your own stuff critically and decide if you are covering far too much in one article. The best way to develop this skill is to read other people’s stuff and see what works for you.
If you realize that you have a topic that is too for one essay of a reasonable length, or even suspect that this might be true, pull back a bit. The technique that I use is the “Two Tree Method”. Let’s start with an example we know is far too big, such as “US Foreign Policy in the Mideast”. That’s the top of your first tree. Write that topic down and then underneath it place all the subtopics that you want to mention, such as “Israel” and “Iran” and “Oil”. If there are more than three that are hard to relate, you can see the problem.
Once you have all the subtopics you want to include, go one more level for each of them. For example, under “Iran” you might have “Shah”, “Savak/CIA”, “Hostages” and “Ancient Persia”, among many others. Keep going level after level, letting the top of the tree widen into a growing web of subtopics. Eventually, you’ll see relations between everything and the tree starts to narrow a bit. Keep narrowing it down into the things that really interest you or are connections between subtopics. Eventually, you get to the narrow end of the second, inverted tree – the thing that you really want to write about.
With practice, you can do it all in your head. Pay attention to the moment when you feel the range of topics that are either interesting or enlightening is clearly narrowing – that’s when Unity is forming.
If you wind up with a lot of subtopics that you want to cover, consider having a series of posts with no more than 800 words. You can use your blog’s topics and/or similar titles to show that the posts make up a series. The narrow end of the inverted tree you wound up with is your overall topic, and each article or post can deal with whatever subtopics you want in depth. Relating it all back in a closing post is tricky, but it’s often close to where you started this process – the top of your first tree.
The Internet is actually a great medium for difficult topics that are properly organized because the subtopics can be related back to each other with links.
Unity is critical to quality writing because there is only so much that your reader can digest – or will want to digest – in one reading. You learn this by reading other people’s works and understanding your own as well as you can. Learning to organize your thoughts into a clear opening, related supporting information, and a strong conclusion does not have to be boring, but it is the key to Unity and quality writing.
For another view, see this post on Unity in modern fiction writing.