By exploring and explaining the perceptive patterns that readers of English follow in their interpretive process, this rhetoric approaches the task of teaching writing from the perspective of readers. As a result, students learn how to write with conscious knowledge of reader’s expectations.
Emphasizing “reader expectations,” this composition text provides an insightful guide to writing clearly and effectively.
Reflecting on the author’s decades of experience as an international writing consultant, writer, and instructor, The Sense of Structure teaches writing from the perspective of readers. This text demonstrates that readers have relatively fixed expectations of where certain words or grammatical constructions will appear in a unit of discourse. By bringing these intuitive reading processes to conscious thought, this text provides students with tools for understanding how readers interact with the structure of writing, from punctuation marks to sentences to paragraphs, and how meaning and purpose are communicated through structure.
Co-authored with Bio-chemist Judith Swan, this article was recognized in 2011 by its publisher, American Scientist, as one of the 36 “Classic Articles” in its 100-year history of publication.
It is the most compact presentation of “The Reader Expectation Approach” to writing, which found its beginnings (1980s) in the work of the consulting firm Clearlines, which comprised Joseph Williams, Gregory Colomb, Frank Kinahan, and George Gopen.
In 1990, Gopen went solo and developed a new strain of the work, creating the “Reader Expectation Approach.”
The central concept is simple: Readers, Gopen argues, take the great majority of their clues for making sense of prose not from word choice nor word meaning, but rather from the location of words in the structure of a sentence. Where a word appears will control most of the use to which readers will put it.
We all know about these clues intuitively as readers; Gopen’s articles, books, and lectures make this knowledge conscious in us as writers.
Once conscious of where readers expect to find certain kinds of information, writers can structure sentences that will far better control the interpretive process of most readers.
Since 2011, Dr. Gopen has been producing a 1,500-word article every three months for the American Bar Association’s journal for trial lawyers, Litigation.
Taken together they are becoming the briefest presentation of the principles that form his “Reader Expectation Approach” (REA), a new way of looking at and eventually controlling the written English language.
Each article deals with a single aspect of REA.
This article explores a serious problem that has undermined writing assignments given in schools and colleges throughout the history of education.
Students are asked to write for a fake audience — the teacher — who presumably already knows most of what the students can find to say.
That erodes the purpose served by writing in the professional world — which is to communicate.
Instead, students write not to communicate but only to demonstrate to the teacher that the students have conquered a small percentage of the totality the teacher already knows.
The article goes on to explain a new way of using group writing that significantly enhances the course’s learning experience.
The procedure, appropriately modified, can work for courses in any discipline.
This is an article not about learning to write, but rather about writing in order to learn.
This approach has already proved effective for more than 15 years at Duke University and at several other campuses where Dr. Gopen has presented it to the faculty.
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