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7.The following is obvious!

When reading, the visual layout often makes it obvious what is related together. The most obvious is what is following what.

I suspect most of us verbalise, at least internally, what we are about to write. However, the written word doesn't exist in a visual vacuum, so while saying following may make some sort of sense verbally to indicate that there is some related words to come, when used to introduce a list, image or table, those items are obviously following on from a sentence ending in a colon (:), making the word totally redundant.

Unfortunately, the use of the word has become so entrenched a habit, that it is often used at the start of the introduction, making the rest of it seem subsidiary. This undermines the purpose of the introduction as well as reducing its impact.

Here, we will look at ways of improving the impact of an introduction by avoiding using the redundant word and instead constructing the sentence to better show why the following items are being shown or what they are meant to show. An introduction is meant to provide the narrative context or justification for what follows, so deprecating that opportunity by emphasising the visually obvious is wasting its potential.

The following are some examples of awkward introductions:

  1. 1.To write a better introduction, do the following steps:
  2. 2.The following diagram shows how incomes have changed over recent years
  3. 3.The following table lists the different crops grown in the world.

More direct versions of these introductions are:

  1. 1.To write a better introduction:
  2. 2.The difference between the rapid growth in executive incomes compared to the slow increase in wages over the last few decades is:
  3. 3.The most valuable crops grown in the world are:
  4. 4.Some examples of awkward introductions are:.

The introductions have been improved by:

  1. 1.Removing the redundant phrase at the end.
  2. 2.Removing the redundant and obvious preamble and indicating what the diagram is intended to show.
  3. 3.Reordering to make the ownership direct, so the reader is explicitly told the relationship, rather than just assuming because the items are after it.
  4. 4.Removing the redundant preamble and indicating the important ordering of the table rows.

However, these examples show that improving an introduction is not just about removing the f-word, but improving the connection between the introduction and its items, like the improvement between:

  1. a.A cue consists of five components:
  2. b.The five components of a cue are:.

The first reads like a statement that just happens to be before a bunch of items rather than the second which explicitly ties them together. The latter positively binds the introduction to its items in the mind of the reader.

These examples demonstrate how to improve introductions to make them as concise as possible while telling the reader what to look for in what follows. This brings continuity to the narrative by keeping the reader focussed on what is most important for the narrative.

It can be hard to drop the f-word habit, just because it is an easy connective to use. It may take some practice to get used to using the more direct wording suggested here. Perhaps focus on the purpose of showing the list and explicitly stating what you expect readers to take away from it. This is not just semantics, but part of telling a story that you want your readers to believe.

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