How to Serve the Strategic Reader
Signal the organization of your text
1. Write an article that makes its structure clear, signals that structure
consistently, and encourages readers to learn a strategy for processing
articles structured in such a manner.
What is signaled: type of article, section-by-section organization, organization
of sentences and paragraphs.
2. Signal how you think this article relates to what readers already know.
Indicate what you think will be the relation between this article and the
reader's existing schemas, to further prepare reader to construct meaning
from the article:
Signal the learning-purpose of your article
Accretion (assimilation) -- adds new content to a pattern
the reader already knows. Asks the reader to recall a known pattern and
learn a new instance of it.
Tuning (accommodation)--changes the way reader knows something. Asks
reader to recall a pattern and modify it.
Restructuring--adds a new way of knowing. Asks reader to learn, remember,
and use a new way of organizing knowledge.
Dissonance--challeges reader's view. Asks reader to recall a familiar
pattern and accept an inexplicable instance that does not fit that pattern.
Confirmation--confirms reader's knowledge. Asks reader to recall
a pattern and recognize that it has been validated. Sometimes the pattern
undergoes an apparent challenge before finally being confirmed. (Entertainment
is based on confirmation.)
(There may be others.)
3. Clearly identify what audience this article is for. Layout, headlines,
subheads, pull quotes, and graphics should accomplish this. Your immediate
signals (title, subtitle, opening, tone) should enable readers to decide
whether to skip this article, skim it, or settle down to read it with care.
Write for the strategic reader
4. Assume and encourage a strategic reader who chooses what, when, and how
to read, reads interpretively, and interprets the article as an organized
whole. Honor thy reader.
5. Write not only for those who read in a continuous manner, but also for
those who scan, sample, and read in a recursive and non-linear manner. For
example, first references to all names that appear later in the article
might be put in bold, so strategic readers who begin in the middle of the
article can quickly understand who is being quoted.
6. Write to be decoded by standard cognitive strategies familiar to readers.
Note that this advice reverses the usual approach-- to "write clearly
and simply" -- by shifting attention from the writing to the reading.
What is "clear and simple" depends on who the audience is.
7. Model and facilitate cognitive strategies such as categorizing, connecting
ideas, evaluating evidence, clarifying, problem-solving, reflecting, analyzing,
8. Reward the reader who uses metacognitive strategies, by helping that
reader decide what to read, find key words or summaries and identify the
structure and context of the article before reading it. One of the major
roles of layout is to facilitate such metacognitive processing.
9. Model and encourage thinking. (Critical, analytical, creative, interpersonal,
10. Use advance organizers (e.g., summaries or opening questions) and other
devices to focus attention, give an overview, and define context (including
11. Address misunderstandings that might arise from readers interpreting
your article in an inappropriate context. (Establish context, clarify confusable
terms, places, names, or events.)
12. Make your subject clear. Announce the article's categories of concern,
using headlines, subheads, sidebars, boxes, frames, infographics, or other
13. Without doing all of it for them, assist readers in abstracting the
gist of the article. Help them distinguish levels of importance (or levels
of detail), distinguish important from less-important information, and locate
information that is relevant to their perspectives.
14. Anticipate misunderstandings that might arise from readers interpreting
the article in an inappropriate context (perhaps by clarifying confusable
terms, places, names, or events).
15. Help readers distinguish between information which should merely be
noted and information which deserves to be thought through, digested, and
16. Set the stage and prime your reader. Establish the context for the information
in the article and encourage readers to activate their schemas which provide
background knowledge, relevant vocabulary, and strategies of interpretation.
Graphics and layout are major tools for activating schemas--including such
devices as subheads, pull-quotes, and context-setting sidebars.
Activate the reader
17. Help readers connect and elaborate. Through such devices as transitions
and paragraph labels, clearly indicate how different parts of the writing
connect with one another. Also give the reader ways to increase the connections
between the new and the known, so the new becomes integrated into the reader's
18. Create a gap and fill it. Help readers identify a gap (between what
they know and what they want to know, or between the way they imagine something
and how it actually is) and create a spark of motivation to fill that gap.
Create cognitive motivation
19. Make the information meaningful (instead of just presenting information).
Information becomes meaningful when it is richly interconnected with what
the reader previously knew, and when the reader can access it as needed.
20. Post-processing--Try to make up for the lack of interaction with
readers by simulating feedback, interaction, and post-processing. Post-processing
includes such activities as discussion, summarization, self-testing, thinking
things over, reacting, reaching a different conclusion, and making a synthesis.
Promote synthesis, meaning, values, and culture
21. Digests--Provide regular summaries, digests, or commentaries
to which the readers can compare their evolving syntheses.
22. Interactive synthesis--Write in a manner that invites interaction.
For example, make your biases clear so readers can compensate for them or
argue with them.
23. Meaning--Regularly write articles that attempt to come to terms
with recent news and create meaning from it. Mirror and support readers'
efforts to make meaning in their own lives.
24. Models--Regularly feature individuals and groups who are themselves
active, strategic interpreters and creators of our shared world (in contrast
to focusing primarily on victims).
25. Values--Identify and promote essential values. Identify value
conflicts, maintain and renew a vocabulary for discussing values, and where
appropriate, present information in relation to values.
26. Shared Schemas--Encourage a common interpretive pool of shared
schemas by the way each article creates, activates, services, modifies,
and refers to the shared interpretive schemas of the readership. In this
way, cultivate a citizenry and a core of common culture.