Reading and Time

I think both scholars and students do well to consider the time their readers spend with what they have written. Consider a 5-paragraph or 5-page or 8000-word essay. Think of them as consisting of 5, 10 and 40 paragraphs respectively. Now, consider this: each paragraph takes about one minute to read and should support, elaborate or defend an easily identified statement (articulated in the “key sentence”). That is, every minute or so, the reader should “get” something–namely, one of the things you’re trying to say. This goes on for however many minutes there are paragraphs.

Think about this when you are writing each individual paragraph. Have you constructed a minute of reading experience for the reader that effectively delivers your message. Do you even know what the message in a given paragraph is? Have decided whether the reader will find it difficult to believe, understand or agree with? Have you made specific rhetorical choices in an effort to help the reader overcome this difficulty? Do you care how this minute feels in the mind of the reader? Have you taken into account the minutes leading up and following after this minute? In many cases, these minutes will have passed according to your instructions, i.e., reading the words you have selected in the order you have arranged them.

Instead of thinking of your text as a structure that simply abides by the rules of style and grammar and therefore “stands up” to a certain kind of judgement, think of it as a texture. Imagine that the reader feels something as their attention passes over the surface of your writing.

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