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Would you be able to answer two discussion questions for my cognitive psyc class. Here’s the reading passage:Students are often called on to do a lot of writing—for example, in an essay exam or a term paper. Can cognitive psychology provide any help in this activity—specifically, helping you to write more clearly and more persuasively?Some bits of advice are mentioned in the Cognitive Psychology and the Law essay for this chapter. Research tells us, for example, that people usually have an easier time with active sentences than passive, and so (all things being equal) active sentences are preferable. We also know that people approach a sentence with certain strategies (e.g., minimal attachment), and so sentences are easiest to understand if they are compatible with those strategies. Related, we know that people can understand material more readily if they can fit the material into a framework or schema that’s already in place. That’s part of the reason that sentences are clearer if the structure of the sentence is laid out early, with the details following, rather than the other way around. (Some guidelines refer to this as an advantage for “right-branching sentences” rather than “left-branching sentences.” The idea here is that the “branches” represent the syntactic and semantic complexity, and you want that complexity to arrive late, after the base structure is established.) By the same logic, lists are easier to understand if they arrive late in the sentence (“I went to the store with Sam, Fred, George, Sue, and Judy”), so that they can be fit into the structure, rather than arriving early (“Sam, Fred, George, Sue, Judy, and I went to the store.”) and so before the structure.Readers are also helped by occasional words or phrases that help them grasp the “flow” of ideas in the material they’re reading. Sentences that begin “In contrast,” or “Similarly,” or “However,” provide the reader with some advanced warning about what’s coming up, and how it’s related to the ideas covered so far. This warning, in turn, makes it easier for the reader to see how the new material fits into the framework established up to that point. The warning also requires the writer to think about these relationships and often that encourages the writer to do some fine-tuning of the sequence of sentences!In addition, it’s important to remember that many people speak more clearly than they write, and it is interesting to ask why this is so. One reason is prosody—the pattern of pitch changes, and pauses, that we use in speaking. These cannot be reproduced in writing—although prosodic cues can sometimes be mimicked by the use of commas (to indicate pauses) or italics (to indicate emphasis). These aspects of print can certainly be overused, but they are in all cases important, and writers should probably pay more attention to them than they do, in order to gain in print some of the benefits that (in spoken language) are provided by prosody. But how should you use these cues correctly? One option is to rely on the fact that as listeners and speakers we all know how to use prosodic cues, and when we write we can exploit that knowledge by means of a simple trick: reading your prose out loud. If you encounter a comma on the page but you’re not inclined, as a speaker, to pause at that moment, then the comma is probably superfluous. Conversely, if you find yourself pausing as you read aloud but there’s no comma, then you may need one.Another advantage of spoken communication, as opposed to written, is the prospect of immediate feedback. If you say something that isn’t clear, your conversation partner may frown, or look confused, or say something to indicate misunderstanding. What can take the place of this feedback when you’re writing? As one option, it’s almost always useful to have someone (a friend, perhaps) read over your drafts; this peer editing can often catch ambiguities, absence of clarity, or absence of flow that you might have missed on your own. Even without a peer editor, you can gain some of the same benefits from, once again, reading your own prose out loud. Some studies suggest that reading your own prose out loud helps you to gain some distance from the prose that you might not have with ordinary (silent) reading, so that you can, at least in a rough way, provide your own peer editing. Related, we know that people routinely skip words when they are reading (this was important for us in the Chapter 3 discussion of speed-reading). This skipping helps when you’re reading, but it’s a problem when you’re editing your own prose (how can you edit words that you didn’t even see?). It’s important, therefore, that the skipping is less likely when you read the prose out loud—another advantage of reading aloud when you’re checking on your own writing.Finally, many people shift into a different style of expressing themselves when they are writing. Perhaps they are convinced that they need some degree of formality in their written expression. Perhaps they are anxious while writing, and this stiffens their prose. Or perhaps they are trying to impress the reader, so they deliberately reach for more complex constructions and more obscure vocabulary. Whatever the reason for these shifts, they are often counterproductive and make your writing less clear, wordier, and stiffer than your ordinary (spoken) expression. Part of the cure here is to abandon the idea that complex and formal prose is better prose. And part of the cure—once more—lies in either peer editing or reading aloud. In either case, the question to ask is this: Would you express these ideas more clearly, more simply, if you were speaking them rather than writing them? Often this, too, will lead you to better writing.Will these simple suggestions improve every writer? Probably not. Will these suggestions take obscure, fractured prose and lift it to a level that makes you eligible for a Pulitzer Prize? Surely not. Even so, the suggestions offered here may well help you in some ways, and for anyone’s writing, any source of improvement should be welcome!Critical Questions2.1 What additional information is present when listening to someone speak, compared to reading someone’s written work?2.2. Why might reading your written work aloud, either to yourself or to a friend, help you improve its clarity?
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