We prefer the new, important information on the right, since its job is to intrigue the reader. Information is interpreted more easily and more uniformly if it is placed where most readers expect to find it. These needs and expectations of readers affect the interpretation not only of tables and illustrations but also of prose itself. Readers have relatively fixed expectations about where in the structure of prose they will encounter particular items of its substance.

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George D. Gopen and Judith A. The Science of Scientific Writing. Appeared in 78 6 Nov-Dec Reading these quotes is no substitute for reading the article. In fact, I hope that these quotes will make you more interested in the material. Readers have relatively fixed expectations about where in the structure of prose they will encounter particular items of its substance. If writers can become consciously aware of these locations, they can better control the degrees of recognition and emphasis a reader will give to the various pieces of information being presented.

A unit of discourse is defined as anything with a beginning and an end: a clause, a sentence, a section, an article, etc. A research article, for example, is generally divided into recognizable sections, sometimes labeled Introduction, Experimental Methods, Results and Discussion. When the sections are confused--when too much experimental detail is found in the Results section, or when discussion and results intermingle--readers are often equally confused.

In smaller units of discourse the functional divisions are not so explicitly labeled, but readers have definite expectations all the same, and they search for certain information in particular places. If these structural expectations are continually violated, readers are forced to divert energy from understanding the content of a passage to unraveling its structure.

As the complexity of the context increases moderately, the possibility of misinterpretation or noninterpretation increases dramatically. Anything of length that intervenes between subject and verb is read as an interruption, and therefore as something of lesser importance. Without the verb, we do not know what the subject is doing, or what the sentence is all about.

As a result, the reader focuses attention on the arrival of the verb and resists recognizing anything in the interrupting material as being of primary importance.

Each unit of discourse, no matter what the size, is expected to serve a single function, to make a single point. In the case of a sentence, the point is expected to appear in a specific place reserved for emphasis. We refer to that location as a "stress position. First, the reader might find the stress position occupied by material that clearly is not worthy of emphasis. In this case, the reader must discern, without any additional structural clue, what else in the sentence may be the most likely candidate for emphasis.

The second possibility is even worse: The reader may find the stress position occupied by something that does appear capable of receiving emphasis, even though the writer did not intend to give it any stress. The information in the topic position prepares the reader for upcoming material by connecting it backward to the previous discussion.

Although linkage and context can derive from several sources, they stem primarily from material that the reader has already encountered within this particular piece of discourse. We refer to this familiar, previously introduced material as "old information.

In contrast, if the topic position is constantly occupied by material that fails to establish linkage and context, readers will have difficulty perceiving both the connection to the previous sentence and the projected role of the new sentence in the development of the paragraph as a whole. Often this happens when the connections are so clear in the writers mind that they seem unnecessary to state; at those moments, writers underestimate the difficulties and ambiguities inherent in the reading process.

Place in the stress position the "new information" you want the reader to emphasize. Place the person or thing whose "story" a sentence is telling at the beginning of the sentence, in the topic position. Place appropriate "old information" material already stated in the discourse in the topic position for linkage backward and contextualization forward.

Articulate the action of every clause or sentence in its verb. In general, provide context for your reader before asking that reader to consider anything new. In general, try to ensure that the relative emphases of the substance coincide with the relative expectations for emphasis raised by the structure.

None of these reader-expectation principles should be considered "rules. There can be no fixed algorithm for good writing, for two reasons. First, too many reader expectations are functioning at any given moment for structural decisions to remain clear and easily activated. Second, any reader expectation can be violated to good effect. Armed with this awareness, the writer can achieve far greater control although never complete control of the readers interpretive process.

As a concomitant function, the principles simultaneously offer the writer a fresh re-entry to the thought process that produced the science. In real and important ways, the structure of the prose becomes the structure of the scientific argument. Improving either one will improve the other.


George Gopen

If the reader is to grasp what the writer means, the writer must understand what the reader needs. Successful jugglers need not only keep the balls from hitting the ground but simultaneously amalgamate new and old tricks, mixing the standard material with the fancy pick-ups. When it comes to academic writing, this juggling is difficult. Depending on your writing experience or lack thereof , it might feel like tossing two balls back and forth is a laborious challenge, and a complicated routine with more sophisticated tricks may seem entirely out of the question.


American Scientist

When is a sentence too long? The Science of Scientific Writing American Scientist Although this information may provide some sense of comfort, it does little to answer the interpretive questions that need answering. Other readers are left in the dark. On the other hand, the amfrican material might be a mere aside that diverts attention from more important ideas; gkpen that case the writer should have deleted it, allowing the prose to drive more directly toward its significant point:. We hear a good deal about the recurrence time between earthquakes: Their structure presented information to readers in the order the readers needed and amerian it. These problems are now familiar: All readers make exactly that kind of choice in the reading of every sentence. Filling the gaps required the addition of extra material.

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