Write the Way People Think

Studies of the brain have shown a lot of interesting things lately about how people think and how they learn. I fully expect computer programmers to duplicate such neural structuring in upcoming versions. Meanwhile, these observations can be used quite effectively in schools and training programs – and even in technical writing.

I’ve always had trouble remembering historical dates and people’s names. I call everybody “Sweetie” and get away with it most of the time. For dates and years in the past, I just say “back in the Cretaceous.” That usually gets a chuckle and I’m off the hook.

The reason I bring that up is because I recently saw a little book on How to Remember People’s Names, which I perused due to my inadequacy in that area. The book suggested relating the name to something you already know. This forms a neural link in the brain to other memories. The more
of these you can form, the better chance you’ll have of remembering.

If I meet a new person named Susan, I can make a connection with my childhood best friend, Susan Fannon.

Or I could think of an adjective that starts with the letter S that describes the new friend, such as Skinny Susan.

Or I could think of a word that rhymes with her name, like Losin’ Susan.

Work with what you already know, attaching something new in your brain to a solid basis that has already been established.

Which brings me to the Tip of the Day: Write your sentences the way people think.
If people usually think in chronological order, then put your sentence in chronological order. Don’t make people try to think backwards.

Bad Example:
Prior to putting the core samples in the box, mark the core with two orientation stripes.

Chronological Example:
Mark the core with two orientation stripes before putting the core samples in the box.

Here’s another example I ran across today:
The high case and the low case were 150 and 50, respectively, compared with the base case of 100.

The way most people think, first you establish a base case, then you have a reference point with which to compare a high case and low case. Wouldn’t it be much clearer to your reader if you structured your sentence in the same order that they normally think?

Better Example:
Compared with the base case of 100, the high case was 150, and the low case was 50.

It just sits better in the brain, which is what good writing should do.


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