Chapter 2: Structure


Translated from the online collection catalogue of the Rijksmuseum:

The transept of the Maria Church in Utrecht, seen from the northeast, Pieter Jansz. Saenredam,1637. In the foreground some visitors and crippled beggars.

For all information provided in the online catalogue, click here, or on the picture above.


In the top half of this painting, the high, cross-linked arches carry the ceiling of the church. The arches are at the heads of the pillars. They form the buttresses on which the roof can rest. There are large arches, small arches, cross arches, all supporting parts that connect the building. Their shape is round, giving the impression that they are smoothly connected to each other. At the bottom of the painting, people are talking to each other in groups. In between is a gallery floor that, just like the other floors, is lit from outside through the windows.

Most churches are built according to a more or less fixed structure. Although we only see part of the building here, the point at which the church is shaped like a cross (the transept), it is immediately clear from the fixed structure that this is a church and not a town hall or a residential tower. We see the elongated part of the cross church intersected by a transept and the points at which the 'arms' of the church begin. We see this special place from the inside, so that the construction is visible to us; the pillars on which the whole thing is built. We see the space created by the structure with its layers of the floors.

The inside of the construction - the internal structure - gives the church its strength. This structure creates the space where everything and everyone has its place: the altar, the choir, the confessionals and of course the benches for the church-goers. The exterior of the church - the external structure – which determines its aspect, is not visible in this painting. But based on what we know about churches, we can imagine what is must look like. For instance, it is a safe bet that there will be an impressive tower on or next to the church.

This image of a building, with its internal structure providing strength and its external structure providing recognizability, can also be found in the structure of a text. This text structure is the subject of chapter 2. If a text has a well thought-out text schema as its internal structure, this ensures that the text is logical and that readers can easily find their way around in it. Additional help for writers and readers - as well as speakers and listeners – is provided by the set text schemata, with their specific questions that fit a particular type of theme. With a suitable external structure it becomes even easier to comprehend a text: the headings, paragraph breaks and signal words support the internal structure and form the signposts through the text.

Together, the internal and the external structure contribute to the sender’s effective transmission of the intended message to the receiver. Just as we could easily recognize a church in the painting with the help of the clear structural characteristics, so the receivers of a well-structured text will be able to quickly see what kind of information the text contains and how they can benefit from it.