A study conducted about semantics and syntax teaches us how to treat important information and make it the most memorable.
In technical writing it is important to be succinct, but sometimes as an editor it is hard to know where the information should go and what to cut out. A study called “The Influence of Semantics and Syntax on What Readers Remember,” by Carol S. Isakson and Jan H. Spyridakis (2003), explores how an editor can know how to increase the memorability of important information.
At the time this experiment was conducted, Carol S. Isakson was a PhD student in educational psychology and Jan H. Spyridakis was a professor in the Department of Technical Communication at the University of Washington. They studied 39 engineering majors. These students were native English speakers, were familiar with technical language, and were considered good readers. Isakson and Spyridakis presented 19 students with one text, and 20 students with another. The students were placed in a classroom where they read the texts and were then tested on the memorability of the texts. In the results, the researchers found some basic principles that can be used in writing and editing. The researchers found that the best way to help readers to recall information is to place the important information in independent clauses as well as at the end of relative clauses. In addition, clauses placed in the first paragraph or in the last sentence of the last paragraph were more memorable for readers.
This study provides insight into the world of technical writing and gives editors an effective recipe for formatting memorable writing. When editing a technical piece of writing, it is important to understand where to put the information that needs to be remembered. Knowing that an independent clause is more likely to be remembered, especially when placed in certain paragraphs, can help shape the style of writing and allow for a more cohesive and memorable article. Readers will be able to recognize and remember important information, allowing the author to become more effective in their intention.
To discover more about how to format writing to make it memorable, read the full article:
Isakson, Carol S., and Jan H. Spyridakis. 2003. “The Influence of Semantics and Syntax on What Readers Remember.” Applied Research 50 (4): 538–53. https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/stc/tc/2003/00000050/00000004/art00016.
—Megan Udall, Editing Research
FEATURE IMAGE BY DAMIAN ZALESKI