Writing by Design: Reader-based Techniques to Improve Your Writing
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!
Chapter 1 - Role of Memory and Attention in Reading
- Memory’s mode of action
- Memory’s drawbacks and limitations
- 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 2 - Modeling Reading
- Reading Model Inputs
- Reading Model Outputs
Limited Brain Resources
- External Constraints
- Model Optimization
Chapter 3 - Designing Memory-Friendly 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
- 1. Repeat again? - The case with repetition
- 2. Going duo - The case with attention and memory
- 3. Clear the fog with such as - The case with examples
- 4. Coat hangers and Signposts - The case with headings
- Memory-hostile Writing
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
- Ways to Lose Reader Attention
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
- The predictive role of expectations in reading
- The alerting role of expectations in reading
- The connective role of expectations in reading
- Class 1 - topic-based expectations
- Class 2 - sequence-based expectations
- Class 3 - other expectation-generating schemes
- The role of the topic sentence
- The role of the tugboat phrase or clause
- The role of hedging
- The role of the structure
- The good way
- The bad way
- Reader Expectations
Chapter 7 - Designing Persuasive Writing with Grammar and Style
- Grammar - the Unexpected Persuasion Tool
Style - Hedging & Empathy
- Empathy with the reader
Other Persuasion Techniques
- Figures of speech
- Long-short arrangements
- Credibility enhancers
- Using Persuasion to benefit the Reader
Chapter 8 - Writing Tools
- Tools to Bring Structure To Your Writing
Tools to Assess the Clarity of Your Writing
- Microsoft Word’s Readability Statistics
- R koRpus Package
- 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!
- 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?
Chapter 11 - Stories from Vladimir and Ruslana - Our typical readers
- Piotr and the Grammar Renderer
- Le Bazaar
- Of Books and Jelly Beans
- Of Phrases and Clauses
Chapter 12 - Exercises
- Exercises for Chapter 1
- Exercises for Chapter 2
- Exercises for Chapter 3
- Exercises for Chapter 4
- Exercises for Chapter 5
- Exercises for Chapter 6
- Exercises for Chapter 7
- Exercises for Chapter 8
- Exercises for Chapter 9
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