Why We Need Structure for Understanding

Structure du pont Corneille

I got a bit of a reality check last week.  My sister read the draft of my ebook that I thought was pretty close to a final draft.  Turns out – not so much.  She made a lot of really great points; because of my closeness to the subject matter, I made a few too many assumptions about what readers would understand – and how the information was organized.  It got me thinking a lot about structure.

When I was teaching my social media course earlier this year, one of the things I struggled with was putting structure around such a massive, often shifting topic.  Obviously, in teaching, structure is important.  But I also think it’s something that we instinctively look for – and not just when learning a new idea.

Structure means affirmation.
Chris Brogan wrote a post last week about plans and permission.  His premise is that when we’re looking online for ideas, what we’re really looking for is a plan for how to do something or permission to do something.  In the sense that plan = structure, he’s right.  We are looking for someone or something to tell us – yes, you’re doing this the “right” way.  Now, I’m not sure there’s always a “right” way to do something.  But I think it’s a part of our human nature to follow the pack; it gives us a sense of comfort.

Structure means it’s knowable.
Structure means that you can wrap your head around something – that it’s finite (or almost finite) and there’s a pattern or process that can be recognized.  It’s a step toward saying, “Okay, I can get my head around this if I try.”

Structure means it’s understandable.
Which is different than knowable.  If knowable means I can wrap my head around it, understandable means I can learn it, reproduce it, even modify it for my own needs.  When I learned French in high school, it was a very traditional method: you learn the French equivalent of English words, you learn the French equivalent of verb tenses, etc.  It’s based on something you know.  Several years later, I took a college-level course in French, which was based on total immersion.  All the lessons were in French – the theory was that you picked up what you needed based on context.  Maybe it works (I’d already learned the traditional way so I can’t say for sure) but the total immersion method seems tougher because the structure is much more loose.

When structure is lacking or not clear, we get tense, confused, uninterested.  The sense of overwhelm is huge.  Although I find mind mapping still a bit too loose for me, I’m going to try using it to help me arrange my thoughts on the ebook a little more clearly.

What do you do to try to put structure around the unclear things?


  1. Barb Markway says

    Hi Susan,

    Haven’t stopped by in awhile and I love the new look and feel of your site!

    As for structure, I LOVE it. I am probably the only person who has a harder time on the weekends–I think because I do so well with the structure of work. I am trying to do more relaxing though, but it does not come naturally for me. Maybe if I schedule and structure my relaxation time :) I like to make lists and goals, but again, am trying to take it easy with that, too, because I go overboard.

    As for your e-book, I’ve had similar experiences with the editing process. One book came back sooo marked up I could hardly read it to make the changes (that was in the old days when the editor used a red pen…I don’t know how it’s done now…) It can be disheartening at first, but getting feedback from multiple sources usually helps the finished product in the end.

    Take Care!!!

    • Susan says

      Thanks, Barb!

      I used to be a really structured person, but since I’ve been working out of my home for the last three years, it’s been a much bigger adjustment than working a regular 9-5 job. Even after all this time, I still haven’t quite figured out the structure that works best for me now — maybe that’s why I wrote about it!

      Hope you’ve adjusted to your new glasses. :) I’ve done it with contacts and it does take some time.

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