If the reader is to grasp what the writer means, the writer must understand what the reader needs.
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. 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.
Good writers are intuitively aware of these expectations; that is why their prose has what we call "shape. A unit of discourse is defined as anything with a beginning and an end: 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.
We present here some results of applying this methodology to research reports in the scientific literature. We have taken several passages from research articles either published or accepted for publication and have suggested ways of rewriting them by applying principles derived from the study of reader expectations.
We have not sought to transform the passages into "plain English" for the use of the general public; we have neither decreased the jargon nor diluted the science. We have striven not for simplification but for clarification. Reader Expectations for the Structure of Prose Here is our first example of scientific prose, in its original form: The functional significance of the other URF's has been, on the contrary, elusive.
This is a large complex that also contains many subunits synthesized in the cytoplasm. Those problems turn out to be only a small part of the difficulty.
Here is the passage again, with the difficult words temporarily lifted: It may now be easier to survive the journey through the prose, but the passage is still difficult. Any number of questions present themselves: What has the first sentence of the passage to do with the last sentence? Does the third sentence contradict what we have been told in the second sentence?
Is the functional significance of URF's still "elusive"? Knowing a little about the subject matter does not clear up all the confusion. The intended audience of this passage would probably possess at least two items of essential technical information: Although this information may provide some sense of comfort, it does little to answer the interpretive questions that need answering.
It seems the reader is hindered by more than just the scientific jargon. To get at the problem, we need to articulate something about how readers go about reading.
We proceed to the first of several reader expectations. Subject-Verb Separation Look again at the first sentence of the passage cited above. It is relatively long, 42 words; but that turns out not to be the main cause of its burdensome complexity. Long sentences need not be difficult to read; they are only difficult to write.
We have seen sentences of over words that flow easily and persuasively toward their clearly demarcated destination.
Those well-wrought serpents all had something in common: Their structure presented information to readers in the order the readers needed and expected it. Beginning with the exciting material and ending with a lack of luster often leaves us disappointed and destroys our sense of momentum. The first sentence of our example passage does just the opposite: Note that the grammatical subject "the smallest" is separated from its verb "has been identified" by 23 words, more than half the sentence.
Readers expect a grammatical subject to be followed immediately by the verb. Anything of length that intervenes between subject and verb is read as an interruption, and therefore as something of lesser importance.
The reader's expectation stems from a pressing need for syntactic resolution, fulfilled only by the arrival of the verb.
Without the verb, we do not know what the subject is doing, or what the sentence is all about.The Science of Scientific Writing If the reader is to grasp what the writer means, the writer must understand what the reader needs George D.
Gopen and Judith A. Swan.
|The Science of Scientific Writing – Association for Psychological Science||This site welcomes science writers and editors who are passionate about improving the quality of information, education, and support for the peaceful use of science Wednesday, December 5, Gopen and Swan: A classic article on scientific writing Numerous courses and books on scientific writing in English reference a classic, "The Science of Science Writing," by George D.|
George D. Gopen and Judith A. Swan S rather its actual communication. It does not matter how 12 32 Writing with the Reader in Mind: Expectation and Context right ~ a less obvious pattern, the discovery of which is Readers do not simply read; they interpret. Any piece of the pomt of ~e table.
George D. Gopen and Judith A.
Swan S rather its actual communication. It does not matter how 12 32 Writing with the Reader in Mind: Expectation and Context right ~ a less obvious pattern, the discovery of which is Readers do not simply read; they interpret.
Any piece of the pomt of ~e table. 4/23/13 The Science of Scientific Writing» American Scientist 1/7 FEATURE ARTICLE The Science of Scientific Writing If the reader is to grasp what the writer means, the writer must understand what the reader needs George Gopen, Judith Swan This article was originally published in the NovemberDecember issue of American Scientist.
Science is often hard to read. George Gopen is Professor Emeritus of the Practice of Rhetoric at Duke University. He has taught at the college level for 45 years and has acted as writing consultant to businesses, law firms, scientific research institutions, and governmental agencies for 37 years.
The Science of Scientific Writing.
George Gopen, Judith Swan. This article was originally published in the November-December issue of. American Scientist. Science is often hard to read. Most people assume that its difficulties are born out of necessity, thought, but rather its actual communication.
It does not matter how .