Story structure 2 – research writing


How is writing research like story? Last post I wrote about Kurt Vonnegut’s man in hole structure and how that might help you think at a very macro level about how to organise your material. This post is also about structure – this time a four part structure I’ve called C3REC.

The C3REC structure is an academic writing version of the creative writing ERCR.

Well who doesn’t love an impossible acroynym… C3REC is no easier to say than ERCR. But let’s go back to the original ERCR. Put simply ERCR means Exposition, Rising action, Climax and Resolution. 

ERCR goes like this: Exposition is all the stuff you, the reader, needs to know before you start the story proper. Next the Rising Action – that’s where the writer offers you a series of events – this then this then this. And all of the this then this then this builds up to a Climax – a big thing – which then leads on to the Resolution, where everything comes together.

Yes, yes I know a lot of contemporary story telling doesn’t do ERCR. Lots of writers enjoy plunging you into something straight away or they omit a conclusion, leaving you to sort out which of the possible endings you think happened. And the Rising Action can take place in different places, times and be told from various points of view. But you know, for the sake of thinking about academic writing, there are enough stories that still use the ERCR structure to make it worth thinking about for a minute or two.

So how does ERCR translate into academic writing, the C3REC?

Well, the C here is for Context times 3. The first E is for Evidence Rising. The second E is for Extending. The final C is for Crunch.


When you start a piece of academic research writing the reader generally needs to know quite a bit. Just like fiction readers. But academic readers need more. Before they get into your research proper, they need to know three things. Context times 3 is

  1. the topic, but also why its an issue/proble/puzzle worthy of exploration
  2. where the topic fits in its field, what it builds on, where you see there is a problem or a niche you can address, and what the research will add, and
  3. how the research was designed and done.

Rising Evidence.

This is where you present your the bulk of your research – whether its analysis of texts, stuff you’ve counted or stuff you’ve seen or stuff you’ve made happen – it is presented as a series of steps. The results rise, there is a narrative arc – the presentation is going somewhere. Each step builds a case. First there’s this theme or experiment or this case study or this event or this was written, and then comes… and after that which leads onto.. here you add incrementally to what the reader knows, step by logical step.


But building steps is not enough. In research writing, whether it’s a thesis or a peer reviewed paper, you are generally expected to do more than simply present an analysis of results, you need to say something about what all of those cumulative steps mean. You can explain them further. You can connect your evidence with some of what you discussed in Context 2 – what’s in the field.

Sometimes you can combine Rising evidence and Extension in your text, but it’s always helpful to remember both parts, you know that you have to work with both. The point of Extension is that you have to take your research results somewhere.


The crunch is where you sum up what you’ve done. This is a resolution but it’s a particular kind. Here is where you say what all this research adds up to. You make your point. Succintly, and in relation to your original issue/problem/puzzle – Context 1. And then you need to talk about how this is a contribution to the field – going back to Context 2. And finally you look ahead and talk about any things that arise from the story – you have a trailer for a possible new story which started with your research. Your trailer provides some clues as to So What and Now What.

And yes yes I know that C3REC can translate into Introduction, Methods Results and Discussion if you want it to. But it might do more. Unlike IMRAD, C3REC can also support a range of other text types, from thesis by papers/publication to more playful and arts based text types. C3REC is more about the content than the form. How you present the material in each of the four moves in C3REC is less prescribed.

C3REC might also work as a revision strategy, where you go back to your text and ask if all of the pieces are in place.

But I know C3REC is not a catchy acronym, and you probably won’t find too many people who know what it is. Don’t worry, they don’t need to. Just keep C3REC to yourself. It’s just a little shorthand between you and me. Our little secret.

And a bit more about story and research writing next week.