Human-Centered Writing
Human-Centered Writing
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Human-Centered Writing

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Completed on 2018-12-10

About the Book

You are an expert respected and recognized by your peers. You spell-checked. You reread your manuscript, several times, and found everything clear. Yet the editor rejected your manuscript. The amazon reviewer gave your book a one-star rating. The lecturer covered your essay in red ink. The customers inundated the product helpline with phone calls after reading your user manual. The decision-makers left your document unread, or worse, misunderstood it and were led astray. What they understood was not what you meant. 

These people are readers. But they are not mythical readers: readers with infinite attention, infinite time, infinite memory, and just the right amount of knowledge required to understand your document. They are imperfect readers, a complication, people with limited memory, attention, and knowledge, not people like you. Your knowledge is secured, entrenched in memory. It took you much time and effort to achieve that, years maybe. Readers have hours to rebuild it from your words, maybe minutes. 

The reader’s failure is now your failure. The failing reader is now your accuser, as well as your judge and jury. Chief among the accusations are obscurity, wordiness, sleep-inducement, and time-wasting. Writer, you have to know how readers read, how they succeed and fail, and you can't know that without considering the physiology of reading. You also need skills in Human-Centered product design. After all, you are the designer and *mindnufacturer* of an intellectual product.

The book has 25 "swimming" exercises, some in shallow pools, some in deep pools. Do not skip them. Get your feet wet. One does not learn swimming by watching others swim! It also has countless examples. Evaluate your own writing in the light of what you learn, with the tools we use and recommend. Discover your writing style. Find out what you do that helps or hinders reading. In short, be your own physician. 

Six stories make reading this book more story-like, and the book’s readability score is low enough to be accessible to all, and in particular to non-native English writers. You do not need to read linearly. Start with the chapter that seems more essential: Complex writing? start with the chapter on memory. Dull writing? Start with the chapter on attention. Unclear writing? Start with the chapter on knowledge. Choppy writing? Start with the chapter on expectations. Unconvincing writing? Start with the persuasion chapter. Ineffective visuals? Start with the chapter on visuals. Enjoy them all!

About the Author

Jean-Luc Lebrun
Jean-Luc Lebrun

Jean-Luc Lebrun has managed research programs while working at Apple Computer in its Advanced Technology Research group for over ten years. He subsequently invested his energy in the commercialisation of research. For the past eighteen years, he has conducted classes worldwide on writing and presentations skills, particularly for scientists. He lectures mostly in Europe and South east Asia. Jean-Luc is an adamant defender of a reader's right to understand what a writer writes. With the latest insights on how the brain works and with a deep understanding of reader interface, he helps us see writing as a product for the mind, a product that has to be designed around the reader. Jean-Luc authored three books published by World Scientific Publishing, on scientific writing, grant writing, and scientific communication.

About the Contributors

Dr. Donald Norman
Dr. Donald Norman

Director Design Lab and Professor Emeritus of Cognitive Science, University of California, San Diego

Dr. Donald Norman was my manager at Apple. I met him years before that in his office at UCSD, the University of California San Diego, to shoot a video on user interfaces. His insights on Human Centered Design had a profound influence on this book.

Lebrun Justin
Lebrun Justin

General Partner at Scientific Reach

Justin co-teaches and sometimes co-writes with me. He is an outstanding editor who also contributed his own examples to this book. He showed me how much writers need readers. I am deeply indebted to him for his many corrections to the many versions of the manuscript.

Table of Contents

  • Preface to Writers
  • Universal Declaration of Readers’ Rights
  • Chapter 1 - Modeling Reading
    • Reading Model Inputs
    • Reading Model Outputs
    • Limited Brain Resources
      • Memory
      • Attention
      • Knowledge
    • External Constraints
    • Model Optimization
  • Chapter 2 - On The Role of Memory and Attention in Reading Successes and Failures
    • Memory
      • Memory’s mode of action
      • Memory’s drawbacks and limitations
    • Attention
      • Attention’s mode of action
      • Attention’s drawbacks and limitations
    • Optional Readings on the Brain Chemistry Behind Memory and Attention
      • The brain chemistry behind memory
      • The brain chemistry behind attention
      • The physiology of attention
  • Chapter 3 - Designing Memory-Friendly Writing
    • Memory-hostile Writing
      • 1. All glued up - The case with long and abstract words
      • 2. Facing the unknown - The case of the new word
      • 3. Stacking the deck - The case with compound nouns
      • 4. Pepping the preps - The case with overly abundant prepositions
      • 5. Who’s on first - The case with ambiguous pronouns
      • 6. Dissing dittos - The case with synonyms
      • 7. OMG - The case with abbreviations and acronyms
      • 8. Falling for the serpentine - The case with long sentences
      • 9. Caving under caveats - The case with uncertainty
      • 10. Breaking bad - the case of split attention/memory
      • 11. Nays for naughts - The case with negative passive sentences
    • Memory-friendly Writing
      • 1. Repeat again? - The case with repetition
      • 2. Going duo - The case with attention and memory
      • 3. Paint over the grey with colorful such as - The case with examples
      • 4. Coat hangers and Signposts - The case with headings
  • Chapter 4 - Designing Writing That Sustains Reader Attention
    • Ways to Lose Reader Attention
      • 1. Misguide and distract
      • 2. Misspell and miswrite
      • 3. Emphasize all
      • 4. Front-load the background
      • 5. Bore
      • 6. De-energize
    • Ways to Gain Reader Attention
      • 1. Grab by the eye-balls
      • 2. Ignite curiosity
      • 3. Plant visible inserts
      • 4. Shock with numbers
      • 5. Impress with figures of speech
  • Chapter 5 - Designing Writing That Considers Reader Knowledge
    • Knowledge Transfer - A misnomer
    • From Thoughts to Words - A refining process
    • From Words to Thoughts - A rebuilding process
    • From Precise to Generic - Addressing the quandary
    • From Unknown to Known - Building the net
    • From Ignorant to Savant- Pegging the reader’s knowledge at the right level
      • Write sections differently to adjust to reader profile and need
      • Pander to a shallower way of gathering knowledge?
  • Chapter 6 - Designing Writing That Raises Reader Expectations
    • Reader Expectations
      • The predictive role of expectations in reading
      • The alerting role of expectations in reading
      • The connective role of expectations in reading
    • Raising Expectations
      • Class 1 - topic-based expectations
      • Class 2 - sequence-based expectations
      • Class 3 - other expectation-generating schemes
    • Managing Expectations
      • The role of the topic sentence
      • The role of the tugboat phrase or clause
      • The role of hedging
      • The role of the structure
    • Breaking Expectations
      • The good
      • The bad
  • Chapter 7 - Designing Writing That Persuades Through Grammar and Style
    • Grammar - the Unexpected Persuasion Tool
    • Style - Hedging & Empathy
      • Hedging
      • Empathy with the reader
    • Other Persuasion Techniques
      • Imagery
      • Repetition
      • Figures of speech
      • Long-short arrangements
      • Credibility enhancers
    • Using Persuasion for the Benefit of the Reader
  • Chapter 8 - Writing Tools
    • Tools to Bring Structure To Your Writing
    • Tools to Assess the Clarity of Your Writing
      • Microsoft Word
      • R koRpus Package
      • Hemingway
      • SWAN
    • Tools To Assess Your Writing Style
    • Tool To Assess The Fluidity of Your Writing
  • Chapter 9 - Text as Consumable Intellectual Product.
    • Product for the Brain
    • Unpacking and Sampling
      • Rummaging the contents
      • Nibbling allowed!
    • Consuming Text
      • Reader-Writer gaps
      • Testing text readability
  • Chapter 10 - Visuals as Consumable Intellectual Products
    • Entering a Visual
    • Consuming a Visual Product
      • What elements of a visual delay understanding or mislead?
      • How can the writer guide the reader inside a visual?
  • Stories from Vladimir and Ruslana - Our typical readers
    • Agile
    • Viktor
    • Piotr and the Grammar Renderer
    • Le Bazaar
    • Of Books and Jelly Beans
    • Of Phrases and Clauses
  • Notes

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