Readers read along until something jolts their attention, such as a misspelled word or an incorrect fact. They continue moving their eyes over the following words, but they’re not paying attention. They’re thinkink about the problematic word, just as you’re now fretting about my misspelling of “thinking” at the beginning of this sentence.

Sometimes you have to include something that’ll jar the reader. Writers tend to explain it later, or just let readers bump on it. The better way is to signal the reader that something striking is about to happen. Even better, disarm the bump at the same time.

Here’s a model of what I’m suggesting, in an article about caffeine:

Hollingsworth compiled his studies in a 1912 book that used a contemporary spelling for the substance: “The Influence of Caffein on Mental and Motor Efficiency.”

The author, Murray Carpenter, warns us that an odd spelling of caffeine is about to startle us, and we don’t bump.

(Do you have any examples of handling this problem well or badly?)

Published in: on March 29, 2011 at 8:58 am  Leave a Comment