Understand how readers read

“What is reading? Most of us think of reading as a simple, passive process that involves reading words in a linear fashion and internalizing their meaning one at a time. But reading is actually a very complex process that requires a great deal of active participation on the part of the reader.”

Jianfei Chen, Indiana University

Reading, like writing, is a process that uses energy. However, writers encode and readers decode letters and words. Reading is actually a two step decoding process during which the brain’s neurology separates out what is written and how it is written from the ideas contained in the writing.

1. First, the reader sees the letters on the page and the brainShocked to read converts these images into meaningful concepts of words and sentences.

2. Secondly, the reader’s brain examines, sorts, and stores these concepts, assimilating them and understanding them. What are the implications for the writer?

It is only during the second step that a totally successful communication process can be completed and comprehension can take place. However, the reader must have some energy in reserve to do this. The writer who uses complex sentences containing words that are obscure and unfamiliar places too high a demand on the reader during Step 1. When this happens, the reader struggles to grasp what is in the message and how it has been written, using up a disproportionate amount of the brain’s energy. The energy store is too low to complete Step 2.

Writers who are sensitive to the reader’s needs realise that even complex ideas can be expressed in clear and simple language. Following this guideline helps to make sure that the communication process can be successfully concluded.

The Training Box recommends…
Put it in Writing
by Albert Joseph  

McGraw-Hill, new and updated edition

 

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