Book review: The Sense of Structure: Writing from the Reader’s Perspective, by George D. Gopen.
The most important goal of this book is to teach writers how to analyze and influence which words in a sentence (or which sentences in a paragraph) readers will treat as most important.
Most of the advice is specific to writing. The confusion with which the book helps becomes much less important for spoken words that come with tone (to show emphasis) and pauses.
A secondary goal of the book is to explain how to organize sentences to minimize the reader’s need to hold information in working memory. For example, putting lots of words before the main subject and verb as this sentence does (unless you really want to slow the reader down, such as when telling someone they’re fired) is something he teaches us to avoid.
I found the explanations fairly clear and moderately surprising. Learning from them depends very heavily on repeated practice at rearranging words within sentences and evaluating how the changes affect readers’ reactions.
That practice feels like it requires lots of willpower. With decisions in some other contexts (e.g. what to eat or where to hike) I can comfortably hold several options in my short-term memory. But when I translate vague thoughts into words, I feel strongly anchored to whatever version I come up with first. And I often find it hard to decide what parts of a sentence I want to emphasize. But I’ve grown sufficiently dissatisfied with my writing style that I plan to pay enough attention while writing that I’ll learn to improve on my initial version.
Please give me feedback in a few months about whether my writing has become easier to read.