Early on, graphic designers learn to master four basic principles using the acronym CRAP, standing for Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity. Each of these helps make a design cohesive, focused, and useful while hopefully avoiding any confusion or redundancy. If a designer utilizes CRAP well, their design will look and feel good.
When applied to writing, these principles can do the same thing. If you’re always thinking about CRAP, you’ll better unify your ideas and convey the proper purpose.
Not only is it important for your writing to have a distinct voice, something uniquely yours that helps set it apart from anyone else’s work, but you should also use contrasting words.
For example, when an article is full of redundancies, it sounds like the writer doesn’t know what they’re talking about and simply needs to fill up space. By varying your examples and the way you express your controlling ideas, your writing will be more interesting, detailed, and useful.
Distinct points to support your controlling idea make your article more credible and useful as well as show the audience that you understand their needs and concerns. If you can’t come up with distinct supporting points to reach your word count, it’s time to go back to brainstorming a controlling idea.
Think about contrast especially when it comes to writing a conclusion. A good conclusion will restate your controlling idea and the article’s points as well as leave the audience with something to think about, but it shouldn’t seem like you just copied and pasted the introduction to the bottom of the page. (Otherwise your writing is just redundant.) In online writing, that “something to think about “ is often a call to action.
This might seem counterintuitive since you were just reading about how things need to be different. But repetition in writing doesn’t mean you should share the same point over and over again.
Instead, think about being consistent—for example, keeping the same tone or theme throughout the article. You want everything to sound like it was written by the same person. If you start out writing a friendly and conversational article, the rest of it should feel the same way.
Similarly, you want to make sure readers don’t lose sight of the purpose. This doesn’t mean you should literally repeat your controlling idea in each section, but make sure that each supporting point has a clear connection to what you’re trying to accomplish. Readers shouldn’t have to strain their minds to remember what the controlling idea is once they start getting into the article itself. If they have to go back to the introduction to remind themselves, the writing itself either needs to be clearer or a new controlling idea should be found.
When it comes to writing, there’s the literal alignment of formatting. If an article is just one giant block of text, people won’t want to read it. Including too many indentations or bullet points, or using them improperly, and you run the risk of putting off readers.
Our Style Guide doesn’t have a lot of rules regarding formatting and alignment, but remember that bulleted lists should have no more than eight points.
Alignment can also be figurative, like the alignment of ideas. For example, all of your ideas should clearly connect to the purpose; after all, they are the supporting points. If an idea is only tangentially related or it’s a stretch to understand why a certain example is connected, it’s not in alignment with the article’s purpose. Nothing should be added in arbitrarily.
If all of your examples fully support the controlling idea, they should also be organized in a logical and natural way; the best articles have ideas building on each other. You don’t start with the most complicated explanation for something. You first provide any needed background and then transition your ideas so readers can logically follow the flow of ideas until they too are an “expert” on a subject.
Related ideas should be in close proximity to each other, so while you’re writing, consider which ideas allow for the most natural flow and transitions to be made. This can help ensure readers understand exactly why each point was chosen to support the controlling idea.
Remember too that just because a flow of ideas makes sense to you as the writer, it might not make sense to your audience. After all, you were there every step of the way in the ideation. Your readers were not. Take the time to read your article as someone in your audience would. Can they follow the same train of thought? If not, consider how you can either reorganize your points or rewrite them to more clearly convey the article’s purpose.
The more you keep CRAP in mind, the more cohesive and interesting your writing can become. Not using one principle of CRAP won’t hurt an article much, but in most cases, the less CRAP, the worse off you actually are.
Which principle of CRAP do you think is most important to remember? Let us know in the comments!