In this study, a tropical cyclone (TC) is considered to be compact if 1) the radius of maximum wind or the maximum tangential wind is smaller than what would be expected for an average tropical cyclone of the same intensity or the same radius of maximum wind, and 2) the decrease of tangential wind outside the radius of maximum wind is greater than that of an average TC. A structure parameter S is defined to provide a quantitative measure of the compactness of tropical cyclones. Quick Scatterometer (QuikSCAT) oceanic winds are used to calculate S for 171 tropical cyclones during 2000-07. The S parameters are then used to classify all of the cases as either compact or incompact according to the 33% and 67% percentiles. It is found that the early intensification stage is favorable for the occurrence of compact tropical cyclones, which also have a higher percentage of rapid intensification than incompact cases. Composite infrared brightness temperature shows that compact tropical cyclones have highly axisymmetric convective structures with strong convection concentrated in a small region near the center. Low-level synoptic patterns are important environmental factors that determine the degree of compactness; however, it is believed that compact tropical cyclones maintain their structures mainly through internal dynamics.