I remember hearing of a book entitled, “How to read a book by Adler Mortima.” I thought, what on earth does that mean?
Who would’ve thought that anyone needed to be taught how to read a book? Isn’t that what we all learn in our primary education? Anything can happen, but teaching people to read isn’t an immediate thought.
For us writers, do we ever take enough time thinking of how our viewers read? I mean do we ever think, before we write, that people will read what we present to them? People read, right? That’s why we write. Otherwise there wouldn’t be any reason to write anything. So let’s consider how people consume what we have to offer. Shall we?
PLI’s Treatise on Thinking Like a Writer: A Lawyer’s Guide to Effective Writing and Editing suggests,
“To help readers through this process, writers have to create a clarity based not just on logic, but also on how a reader’s mind deals with complicated information. This “cognitive” clarity is based on three facts about how people read. In terms of logic alone, none of them matters. In terms of coherence—of clarity in the reader’s head at every moment, not just at the document’s end—they are critical.”
Ever thought of the way readers’ minds process information? Remember people have reading habits. They don’t just read. They read for reasons far more than simple entertainment. They read to gain wisdom. So it is imperative that when we write we aim for more than just entertaining. Not to say we need to write boring pieces. Entertainment plus knowledge impartation are quite a good combination for success in writing.
According to the above PLI’s Treatise,
- Because readers have trouble grasping dissociated details, they focus on and remember details better if they fit together with others to form a coherent pattern. Only the pattern—the story, the logic, the theme—enables readers to decide how a detail matters and whether they should bother to remember it. The harder they must work to see the pattern or fit new information into it, the less efficiently they read, and the greater the chance they will misinterpret or forget the details.
- With words as with food, they cannot easily ingest an unbroken flow. At both the large scale (the document as a whole) and the small (paragraphs and sentences), they want writing cut into manageable pieces, so they can pause and begin to digest each before they go on to the next.
I want to believe it is clear that structure does matter. For one to be a success, structuring pieces becomes very important to master. And there’s no doubt about it, lovers of literature like it better when their minds can be at peace with the free flow of ideas.
Put another way, Readers absorb information best when their minds can engage with it, think about it, and work on it, rather than just try to remember it. They can engage with it in several ways: by using it to answer a question or test a conclusion, for example, or simply by following a thread—a theme or a topic—through it.
They can do none of this, however, unless you have given them a focus for their thinking in the form of a question, conclusion, or topic.