Expert writing (academic and professional)
(Notes from The Little Red Schoolhouse at the University of Chicago.)
- Interferences between what the writer wants and what the reader wants.
- Readers tend to see the world in terms of actions, and thus they look for verbs. But writers store/remember the important concepts of their field as nouns, not verbs.
- Readers tend to understand the world in terms of characters (someone/something capable of acting), and they expect to find them in subjects.
- Diagnostics when reading a text:
- underline verbs and ask if they correspond to significant actions;
- underline subjects and ask if they correspond to significant characters.
- Principles of clear writing:
- express as verbs (rather than nominalizations) the actions one want the readers to focus on;
- express as subjects the characters one wants the readers to focus on, and be consistent.
- Subjects create focus, so choose them according to the readers, but also choose those that are valued by the readers.
- Possible to use passive verbs when they allow a character to be the subject.
- Possible to use nominalizations when they are also perceived by the readers as characters.
- Structuring long sentences:
- easier to read when the subject+verb ("core") are together and at (close to) the beginning
- write long sentences with ("connectors/orientors" + "core" + "other") repeated N times
- Information flow:
- readers need some old, simple information in every sentence
- the old information should come before the new, complex information which is at the end (stress position)
- must provide information (for readers who don't know) and motivation (for readers who don't care)
- statis -> concession -> destabilizing condition (but) -> consequences: all this helps persuade the reader that we're going to address an important problem
- filling a gap is good, but changing a previous belief is usually better
- manifest problem (we have a problem to solve) versus critical problem (actually, we have a different problem) -> gives the impression that the writer is doing critical thinking (not only informing, but criticizing)