Successful Writing : Holding Your Reader

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If there is any way for your readers to get lost, they will.

Holding your reader is an art by itself. Readers can be a fickle lot, hard to please and easy to lose. And once lost they’re hard to recapture. Thus the first rule for holding your readers is to capture their interest. You can usually do that by teaching them something, since most readers want to stay with a writer as long as they are learning. So it’s important as you work to ask yourself, “Am I telling my readers what they want and need to know?”

But when you’re drafting and revising, it’s also helpful to keep in mind some specific strategies for holding your readers.

We suggest Ten such strategies:

Choose A Good Title.

Write Strong Leads.

Keep Your Writing Tight And Unified.

Keep Your Sentences and Paragraphs to a Reasonable Length.

Chunk Your Writing Into Manageable Units.

Avoid Antagonizing Your Readers.

Make Your Writing Look Good.

Use Figurative And Connotative Language Sparingly.

Avoid Stereotypes And Offensive Labeling.

Maintain A Civil Tone.

For Practice :

1. Working with other students in a small group, discuss the following titles chosen from the table of contents of an essay anthology. How useful do you find them as forecasts of what to expect in the essay? As a group, decide which three titles are the most informative and which three are the least informative.

• In Distrust of Movements
• Earth’s Eye
• If You Are What You Eat, Then What Am I?
• What’s So Bad about Hate?
• The Synthetic Sublime
• The Singer Solution to World Poverty
• The Joys and Perils of Victimhood
• A Son in Shadow
• In Defense of the Book

2. Working with several other students, draft some possible titles that would be both informative and inviting for these articles:

• A Press release about an exhibit of women student’s paintings at the college museum

• A newspaper editorial about a proposal to construct twenty – four skyboxes at the college stadium to be sold for $250,000 each

• An article about the local Hands–On Housing program that is looking for skilled volunteers to design and supervise construction for five low cost homes on a tract of land donated anonymously to the city

3. Working with other students in a group, evaluate the following opening paragraphs taken from newspaper feature stories. How well do you think the leads work? Do they make you want to read the story? Why? What improvements would you suggest, if any?

While we have become familiar with things like blueberries from Maine and tomatoes from New Jersey, there is some produce, like watermelon, that seems to have no origin. Watermelons are just something that you know will be there piled high in your grocery store thought the summer. Every day tons and tons of them arrive in the city, just hours out of the field and as they disperse to grocery stores, markets and bodegas, all traces of where they come from disappear. (Amanda Hesser : Follow That Watermelon!)

In spirit, the Endangered Species Act is the noblest of the landmark environmental statutes passed during the Nixon era. In practices, it has been by far the most controversial. It is the act right–wing property–right advocates love to hate and once again it is under fire for allegedly protecting animals at the expense of human economic needs – this time in Oregon’s Klamath Basin where the federal bureau of reclamation has shut off irrigation water in order to save the endangered stickler–fish and the threatened coho salmon. The action, coming on top of the worst drought the Pacific Northwest has seen in many years, has left 1400 farmers without water, ruined crops on about 200,000 acres and inspired isolated acts of civil disobedience in which angry farmers have tried to reopen head gates blocking the water. It has also become the latest relying cry for opponents of the Endangered Species Act. (Editorial : New York Times)

I knew I’d arrived at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge when I pulled up to the visitor center and spotted two white – tailed deer grazing in a clearing . They soon were joined by two more deer which watched nonchalantly as I got out of my car and headed inside. They seemed to know that they’re safe on this 115,000 – acre refuge created in 1937 to protect the endangered whooping cranes. (Scott Williams : Aransas Offers Refuge from City Life)

4. Here are two long though fairly readable sentences by professional authors. How would you break them up to make them more readable without destroying their unity?

When Ben Jan son was small boy, his tutor, William Camden persuaded him of the virtue of keeping a commonplace book: pages where an ardent reader might copy down passages that especially pleased him, preserving sentences that seemed particularly apt of wise or rightly formed and that would, because they were written afresh in a new place and in a context of favor, be better remembered, as if they were being set down at the same times in the memory of they mind. (William H. Gass : In Defense of the Book)

Blue and white canopied water taxis glide thought the harbor allowing passengers to embark and alight at the attractions that dot theater front: not only the glass enclose shopping pavilion and the aquarium but the kid-friendly Mary Land Science Center (Imax theater and hands – on displays galore) and the oddly provocative America visionary Art museum (Where the displays of multimedia constructions by self–taught artists range from the striking to the bizarre as well. (Diane Cole : How dowdy OLD Baltimore Turned Fashionable)

5. Working with two or three other students in a group, discuss how you might revise the following passages to get rid of biased language:

• The artist must follow his own intuition if he is to do lasting work where he is a painter or sculptor. The man who tries to imitate what is currently chic will not make his mark on the culture.

• The nurse who wants to work with the day to day patients in a hospital will often find that she has been replaced by nurses’ aides because the hospital administrator has been forced to cut his expenses.

• Policemen, teachers and mailmen are often well paid in large cities that have strong public employee unions.

• One can depend on Good restaurants in Cincinnati because many Italians and Germans settled there.

• As a 6 – foot 8 – inch African American, Jarvis will probably be going to college on a basketball scholarship.

• The Editor of an online magazine to be launched next year is a gay man with wide experience in magazine publishing and television talk shows.

• Those girls have been playing bridge together once a week for at least twenty – five years.

• Although the photographer has passed her seventy – fifth birthday, she still travels and does outstanding work.

For Writing :

Choose one of the writing assignments in this section and before writing, complete an analysis of your readers. Include the analysis when you submit the assignment. Your analysis should answer the following:

Who are your readers?
What questions do they want answered?
What is your persona in this piece of writing?
What is your goal in wiring?
What characteristics of the audience do you need to keep in mind in order to hold their attention?

1. You have a part – time job as restaurant critic for your local newspaper and you specialize in reviews of restaurants that attract both students and faculty from your institution. Write a review of no more than 500 words (Two double spaced pages) in which you focus on food quality, atmosphere and there service you received. Keep a moderate tone and an informal style. Be sure to mention price ranges and specialties.

2. The board of trustees is holding a hearing to help decide whether to tear down and replace low rent student housing that was fashioned thirty years ago out of building at a local Air force base that was closed down. The housing is unsightly and needs repairs. Some trustees believe it may be unsafe. If it is torn down, however, there will be no low cost student housing available close to campus for at least two years and the housing that would replace it would rent for at least 50 percent more.

As spokesperson for the married students who are now living in the housing prepare a ten – minute talk (on more than 750 words) against tearing down the housing. Be sure to propose some alternative solution. If the proposal suggest what measures the college might take to improve the current building or where substitute housing might be located and how it could be financed.

3. A chartable organization in your city called The New Career Closet seeks donations of women’s clothes appropriate for first – time women job seekers who have finished a city sponsored business training program and will be going out on job interviews. You have offered to create a web site for the organization to help it publicize its service to both potential donors and possible recipients of such clothing. Remember, you have two audiences here women who can donate such garments and women who seek a reliable source for tasteful business apparel. Write Copy of no more than 350 words for the web site.

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