4 Methods to Easily Organize the Content of Your Self-Help, How-To or Business Book

The structure of a book is like a roadmap that guides the reader to the destination. If a book’s structure meanders, a reader may become lost. They may fail to understand the importance of the information presented, and in the end, the impact of the content may be diminished. The key to a strong structure is creating a logical flow through:

  • Understanding your subject and the purpose of your book, and
  • Knowing the reader - what the reader already knows, what he needs to know, and the order in which he needs to know it to achieve the goal of the book or experience the intended impact.

For prescriptive nonfiction, there are several ways you can arrange your content in a logical flow. It can be based on the increasing importance or complexity of the material, the order of need, by classification and division, or by inductive and deductive reasoning.

1. Organize the Content by Increasing Importance or Complexity of the Material
Use this method if a reader’s understanding depends on knowing simpler principles and information first before you present the more complex steps.

2. Organize the Content by Order of Need
The information is organized based on when your reader needs the information. If you are presenting a step-by-step process where the reader needs to do a specific step first before doing another step, then you would use this method to arrange your content.

3. Organize the Content by Classification and Division
This entails arranging the material in separate classes and divisions. An example is the book You: An Owner’s Manual in which the authors classify the material based on sections of a person’s body, the heart and arteries, the brain and nervous system, the lungs, the liver and pancreas.

4. Organize the Content by Inductive or Deductive Reasoning
If you are creating an argument in favor of, or against, something and your intent is to persuade readers to embrace your point of view, then you would use this method of presenting your material. With this method, you establish the premise, you explain the “how”, then you lead the reader through your argument for, or against, the concept, and you address and overcome any objections against your argument.

Select the organizational method that best presents your material.

Review the Layout

To ensure the layout and structure of the material is logical, review each chapter’s content and ask:

  • Does each topic belong in this chapter?
  • Should any information be moved to another chapter?
  • Is any information duplicated? (Duplicated information should be eliminated.)
  • Am I missing any important topics that should be included? (If so, add them.)

If you still find it challenging to create the structure and arrangement of the book:

  1. Create a list of what the reader already knows before reading your book. This will help you refine the scope of the book. (If you are writing a book on Bookkeeping for Small Businesses, you may assume readers already have an understanding of basic math and that you don’t need to cover the topic of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division).
  1. Create a list of everything the reader will know after he has read your book.
  1. Arrange the topics of the list (of everything the reader will learn from your book) in the order that will best facilitate the learning process that leads to achieving the goal.

If after finishing your structure, you find you have more information that doesn’t seem to “fit” into any chapter:

  1. Determine if the information is important.
  1. If you determine the information should be included in the manuscript, consider creating an appendix or breaking up the information into smaller chunks for sidebars, or including a Q&A section at the end of each chapter.