the sense of structure writing from the reader s perspective by george d gopen
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The Sense of Structure Writing From the Reader’s Perspective By George D. Gopen. Benjamin Lok 9/21/06. Outline. Why should this interest me? Gopen’s Approach Sentences Paragraphs Summary. Who would benefit from this talk/book?. Writers of technical papers and proposals

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the sense of structure writing from the reader s perspective by george d gopen

The Sense of StructureWriting From the Reader’s PerspectiveBy George D. Gopen

Benjamin Lok

9/21/06

outline
Outline
  • Why should this interest me?
  • Gopen’s Approach
  • Sentences
  • Paragraphs
  • Summary
who would benefit from this talk book
Who would benefit from this talk/book?
  • Writers of technical papers and proposals
  • Writers who write X, but get reviewers that complain of Y
  • Writers for whom English is not a primary language
approach
Approach
  • The problem with writing is that:
    • We have an idea X
    • We write down a set of words w
    • Mentally we associate w -> X
    • When we ‘proofread’ w, we mentally get X
      • Because of the association
      • Not necessarily because w -> X
  • How can we solve this?
    • We can’t
approach1
Approach
  • However, we can try to raise the percentage chance that a reader will associate w->X
  • By understanding what readers comprehend when reading w
  • Note: This means that some people will still believe w!->X
gopen s approach
Gopen’s Approach
  • Study writing from the reader’s perspective
    • Fewer rules!
    • Example:
      • In the second study, people performed the task twice.
      • Study participants, in the second study, twice performed the task..
    • From the reader’s perspective, which sentence gave us more information?
      • Why?
      • While we’ve been taught writing rules are paramount, it really is secondary in impacting what the user comprehends.
      • So what is primary?
      • Not word choice.
      • Word order!
      • 85% word order, 15% word choice
emphasis
Emphasis
  • Although Fred is a nice guy, he beats his dog.
    • #4
  • Although Fred beats his dog, he’s a nice guy.
    • #1
  • Fred is a nice guy, but he beats his dog.
    • #3
  • Fred beat his dog, but he’s a nice guy.
    • #2
  • Evaluate: Stress point, and dependent/independent clauses
  • Important things to consider:
    • Dog lovers always hate Fred
    • You can make Fred unlikable
carrot
Carrot
  • Confidence - the message you are writing will be the same message the reader is reading
  • Efficiency - spend less time with your writing
  • Persuasion - subtly shape reader’s perceptions
  • Tools not rules. You won’t be forced to memorize anything!
motivating examples
Motivating Examples
  • Gopen is a writing instructor and consultant
  • Studies what people perceive when the read a passage.
  • Example: Which is correct?
    • A. Please go out to the garage and bring me the rake, which is broken.
    • B. Please go out to the garage and bring me the rake which is broken.
    • C. Please go out to the garage and bring me the rake that is broken.
    • D. Please go out to the garage and bring me the rake, which is broken.
  • Answer:
    • A&C grammatically correct, B&D grammatically wrong
    • The issue? The which/that rule is hard to remember
one motivating example
One Motivating Example
  • Example 2: Which is correct?
    • My sister, who plays the violin, is visiting me this summer
    • My sister who plays the violin is visiting me this summer
  • What is the difference?
  • What does this tell us about the writer/reader relationship?
    • Ahh, the writer already KNOWS how many sisters he/she has
    • “Filling in the ignorant reader” is the academic task of the writer
    • No!
sentences
Sentences
  • A sentence by itself is:
    • Rarely good nor bad
    • Neither correct nor wrong
    • E.g. stick a sentence in from the Gettysburg Address into Dr. King’s “I have a Dream” speech
  • What matters?
    • Context Counts
    • Word Order counts
links to movies songs
Links to Movies/Songs
  • You attend a concert. Freeze a moment in time about 15 minutes into the concert. What do you expect in the next minute?
  • Movies –
    • Watchers/Listeners/READERS have expectations
    • If you break expectations
      • They get confused (the muddled feeling you get)
      • They distrust you (this is difficult to recover from)
reader expectations of a sentence
Reader Expectations of a Sentence
  • Word Order Counts!
    • Talk welcome this to
    • Welcome to this talk
  • Why?
  • Reader expects certain conventions
  • Readers of English expect that the action of a sentence will be articulated by its verb
  • Therefore: always make sure that the verb of a sentence is the action of what are you saying.
reader expectations of a sentence1
Reader Expectations of a Sentence
  • Readers of English expect that the action of a sentence will be articulated by its verb
  • Therefore: always make sure that the verb of a sentence is the action of what are you saying.
  • Note what is perceived from the following:
    • What would be the student reaction accorded the imposition of such a requirement?
    • How would the students react to such a requirement?
    • How would the students react if the Dean imposed the new requirement?
  • The main question is: what is the authors intent? This is formalized by the verb
reader expectations of a sentence2
Reader Expectations of a Sentence
  • Readers of English expect that the action of a sentence will be articulated by its verb
  • Persuasion example:
    • We are firing you because you failed to meet your sales quota, as required by clause IV(b) of your employment contract.
    • Discontinuation of your employment contract has become necessary because of noncompliance with clause IV(b).
  • Which is easier to take? For everyone? How much easier? Is their a ceiling/floor?
whose story is this anyways
Whose Story is This Anyways?
  • Readers expect the a clause will tell the story of whoever or whatever shows up first
  • Why?
    • The mind synthesizes words as they arrive
  • The order of arrival significantly affects synthesis
  • Example: Jack loves Jill.
  • What does the reader process?
  • What about:
    • Jill is loved by Jack
  • The point is when starting a sentence, ask yourself: Who is the story about?
  • What else does this imply:
    • You shouldn’t wait to tell the reader the subject
what are you waiting for
What are you waiting for?
  • Readers expect the grammatical subject to be followed almost immediately by the grammatical verb
  • Ex. The combination of such confidence in understanding situations and such unwillingness – or perhaps inability – to step forward and be assertive was completely new to her
  • Completely new to her was the combination of such confidence in understanding situations and such unwillingness – or perhaps inability -- to be step forward an be assertive.
what are you waiting for1
What are you waiting for?
  • Readers expect the grammatical subject to be followed almost immediately by the grammatical verb
  • Make the first word is the subject
  • Make what the subject does the second word
  • A side effect: If you don’t readers will less likely remember what you place between a subject and verb!
  • Example: Participants, in the second study, took twice as long to complete the task as those in the first study.
a reminder so what
A reminder… so what?
  • So what if I don’t follow these guidelines?
  • SUBJECT VERB…
  • ?
save the best for last
Save the Best for Last
  • Humans like to save the best for last
  • Like eating! Dessert is last!
  • Tool: Readers of English expect the material most to be emphasized in the sentence will appear at a moment of full syntactic closure, called a Stress Point (SP).
  • Corollary: Readers of English expect that every Stress position will be filled with material intended to receive significant emphasis.
  • Ex. Jack loves Jill
  • What do we expect is the author’s main point?
  • What do we expect to follow?
emphasis example
Emphasis Example
  • I went downtown yesterday, and I had a car accident.
    • Weird that both seem equivalent!
  • I went downtown yesterday. I had a car accident.
    • Both are equivalent, and the author clearly intended it.
  • When I went downtown yesterday, I had a car accident.
    • Car accident is most important.
  • Downtown yesterday, I had a car accident.
    • Car accident is by far the most important.
  • When I had the car accident yesterday, I was downtown.
    • Being downtown was the most important part.
  • Again, order matters, not word choice.
summary
Summary
  • Word order is important
  • Subject should be the first word
  • Verb should follow
  • Stress point should in the last part of the sentence.
  • Foreshadowing: You can manipulate the reader!!!
another emphasis example
Another Emphasis Example
  • Please Score: 0-100:
  • Overall, although the proposal is scientifically sound, the preliminary results are not persuasive.
  • Although the preliminary results are not persuasive, overall this proposal is scientifically sound.
  • Overall, this proposal is scientifically sound, but the preliminary results are not persuasive.
  • The preliminary results are not persuasive, but overall this proposal is scientifically sound.
  • Avg scores 30, 70, 40, 60.
topic position
Topic Position
  • Tool: Readers expect the material at the beginning of a sentence to provide a connection backward to the previous sentence.
  • Look at a paragraph’s topic positions!
  • Backward-Linking old information + Whose story = CONTEXT
subject sp relationship
Subject->SP relationship
  • Tool: Readers expect the material at the beginning of a sentence to contextualize them for the new and important material to be presented later in the sentence.
  • Tool: Readers form that context by answer two questions: (1) Whose story is this? And (2) How does this sentence link backward to the sentence before it?
  • How am I to use this to help me write?
    • Tool: Make sure that your subject and stress points in a paragraph are connected!
paragraphs connect sentences
Paragraphs connect sentences
  • Eg. Asbestos insulation installers who have inhaled asbestos fibers over a period of many years regularly contract these diseases.
  • What is the most important things?
    • Could be installers, asbestos fibers, insulation, over a period of many years
    • You control things. AND the reader expects things (SP).
    • If you don’t the odds of them picking up on what you meant drop considerably
but it feels too restrictive
But it feels too restrictive!
  • You can add phrases, etc. however you just need to know how they will be perceived
  • Boredom does not rise from structure, but from content
  • Lots of freedom!
  • If your Topic and Stress points are full of stupid and boring things, perhaps your idea is too.
take home points
Take Home Points
  • Write most sentences as:
    • Subject -> Verb ->Stress Point
  • Whose Story – Action – Stress
take home points1
Take Home Points
  • Paragraph
    • The *point* of your paragraph should be in the first two sentences (almost always)
    • The point of your entire paper should be at the end of the first paragraph
    • Subject1 -> Verb1 ->Stress Point1. Subject2 -> Verb2 ->Stress Point2.
      • Stress Point1 should be clearly related to Subject2.
  • Controlling movement->controlling thought
    • Controlling the whose story let’s you say what is the ‘star’ of the text. Controlling the stress points means you control what is important.
bad advice
Bad Advice
  • Myth: “Write the way you speak”
    • Speaking has more information (verbal/nonverbal cues)
  • Instead: “Write the way your readers read”
  • Myth: “To see if your writing is good, read it out loud”
    • You only reinforce the w->X linkage, not whether someone will comprehend w->X
  • Myth: “To make it better, make it shorter”
    • Longer sentences are harder to write, not read!
  • Myth: “Avoid the verb to be and other weak verbs”
    • Verbs gain meaning through context. This is more important
  • Myth: “Vary the way you begin sentences to keep your reader interested”
    • Linkages, plus beginning of a sentence is just too important for variety sake. What is the role of your writing?
slide31
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  • Remember: Writing is a part of the thinking process.
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