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The Reader's Brain

Book Description

Have you ever found yourself re-reading the same sentence four or five times and thought 'I should get more sleep'? Are you clueless as to why one paragraph just seems to 'flow' while you simply can't recall the contents of another? Guess what: you are not alone. Even the best writers fail to grasp why their writing works. The Reader's Brain is the first science-based guide to writing, employing cutting-edge research on how our minds process written language, to ensure your writing can be read quickly, assimilated easily, and recalled precisely - exactly what we need to transform anyone into a highly effective writer. Using the 5Cs - clarity, continuity, coherence, concision, and cadence - this book combines irreverent humour with easy-to-follow principles that will make readers perceive your sentences, paragraphs, and documents to be clear, concise, and effective.

Table of Contents

  1. Cover
  2. Half title
  3. Title page
  4. Imprints page
  5. Dedication
  6. Contents
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. Chapter 1 So much advice, so much lousy writing
    1. Three aspects of writing: micro, macro, middle
    2. The science of writing
  9. Chapter 2 The new science of writing
    1. Readability formulas: a non-narcotic sleep aid
    2. The mechanisms of reading: see Jane read. Read, Jane, read
    3. Inference building: see alligator chomp. See Jane run
    4. Schemas: no such thing as an immaculate perception
    5. Putting it all together: readability outcomes
  10. Chapter 3 Choosing words and structuring sentences
    1. Reading is a three-step dance
    2. Clarity Principle #1: Prefer active to passive construction
      1. Why is active construction such a big deal?
      2. Exceptions to the rule
      3. Corollary: Beginning a sentence with There is or There are is ALWAYS a bad idea
    3. Clarity Principle #2: Make your verbs portray action whenever possible
      1. Corollary: Avoid nominalizations!
      2. How do you get rid of nominalizations?
      3. Turning passive sentences into active involves choosing the right subject
    4. Clarity Principle #3: Use actors or concrete objects as your grammatical subjects
      1. Actors make the best subjects
      2. Actors avoid ambiguity
      3. Corollary: Avoid using phrases and clauses as your grammatical subjects
    5. Clarity Principle #4: Place grammatical subjects close to the beginnings of sentences and the verb as close as possible to the subject
    6. Putting clarity principles into practice
  11. Chapter 4 Putting sentences together
    1. Mind the gap!
    2. Why is continuity so important?
    3. Prediction is essential to understanding
    4. Reading and prediction
    5. Continuity Principle #1: Place the most important information at the ends of things – sentences, paragraphs, and entire papers
      1. How do you manage emphasis?
      2. Why are long sentences so difficult to read?
    6. Continuity Principle #2: Use transitions to tie sentences together
      1. Conjunction junction
      2. Can you have too many transitions? Not really!
    7. Continuity Principle #3: Sequence information in sentences in a familiar–unfamiliar, familiar–unfamiliar pattern
    8. Continuity Principle #4: Try to keep grammatical subjects consistent from sentence to sentence
    9. Continuity Principle #5: Continuity is more important than clarity. If you can only maintain a strong sequence or a consistent subject by using passive construction, then use it
  12. Chapter 5 Organizing paragraphs and documents
    1. Drunk, sober, and savvy cinema-goers: three models of comprehension
    2. How do you write for distracted readers?
      1. Why is brief usually better?
    3. Coherence Principle #1: Begin each paragraph with a set of comprehensive overview sentences, a paragraph head
      1. Can you use more than one sentence in a paragraph head?
      2. Spot the difference
      3. Creating a good paragraph head
    4. Coherence Principle #2: Support each paragraph’s head with a body
      1. One final caveat on paragraph bodies
    5. Coherence Principle #3: Documents need heads and bodies. Apply paragraph head and body organization to your entire document
      1. Avoid Big Bang Beginnings
    6. Coherence Principle #4: Place your thesis at the end of the head paragraph(s)
    7. Coherence Principle #5: End complex paragraphs with a conclusion sentence. And end complex documents with a conclusion paragraph
  13. Chapter 6 Maximizing efficiency
    1. Think you already avoid “unnecessary words”? Think again
      1. What’s double about the Double Man’s writing?
      2. Are you referring to a feeling or a thought?
    2. Concision is also precision
      1. English: the doubled language
    3. Concision Principle #1: Avoid redundant pairs
      1. Snares to avoid: redundant pairs
    4. Concision Principle #2: Avoid redundant modifiers
      1. Snares to avoid: redundant modifiers
      2. Yet another holdover from Ye Olde Englande
    5. Concision Principle #3: Avoid negatives
      1. Don’t use no negatives
        1. Swaps for concision: replacing negatives
    6. Concision Principle #4: Avoid narrating or hedging
      1. Can metadiscourse ever serve a purpose?
        1. But stay clear of most metadiscourse
      2. Concision Principle #5: Avoid throat-clearing
  14. Chapter 7 Making music with words
    1. Cadence Principle #1: Vary the structure of your sentences
    2. Cadence is always with us
      1. Why do we “hear” written language? Three neural explanations
      2. Explanation 1: Speech, auditory, and visual systems work together in reading or this is your brain saying glomerulonephritis
      3. Explanation 2: Your visual, speech, and auditory centers are hard-wired together
      4. Explanation 3: Neuroplasticity – reading and writing wired your visual, speech, and auditory centers together
    3. No matter how you look at it, reading is a multi-input process
    4. Cadence Principle #2: Vary the lengths of your sentences
    5. Cadence in the brain is also real
    6. Cadence Principle #3: In a list, series of phrases, or entire sentence, place the item with the least number of words and syntactic complexity attached to it first, with the longest item, last
  15. Supplement
    1. Grammar made (relatively) painless
      1. Subjects
        1. Common problems with subjects
      2. Pronouns
        1. Common problems with pronouns
      3. Verbs
        1. Common Problems With Verbs
          1. 1. Lie versus lay
          2. 2. Moods
          3. 3. Passive versus active construction
      4. Adjectives and adverbs
        1. Common problems with adjectives and adverbs
      5. Common disasters: or, what the hell's a split infinitive, anyway?
        1. Before we begin…What's the difference between a clause and a phrase?
      6. A phrase is a phrase: or, what the hell's a preposition/ participle/gerund/appositive/infinitive?
        1. Why you should care about prepositional phrases:
        2. Why you should care about participle phrases:
        3. Why you should bother knowing anything about gerund phrases:
        4. Why you should give a damn about appositives (aside from the numerous advantages listed above):
        5. Why you should worry about infinitives:
      7. Adverb, adjective, and noun clauses
        1. Why you should pay attention to adverb clauses:
        2. Why you should pay attention to adjective clauses:
        3. Why you should care about noun clauses for punctuation's sake:
    2. Where do you put the ___? Punctuation made painless
  16. Endnotes
  17. Select Bibliography
  18. Index