Wednesday, 29 September 2021

Darwin studied finches

Earlier this year I read a great blog post by Thesis Whisper, Inger Mewburn, on how to write a sentence in a clear and understandable way.

This was a GREAT post. I really enjoyed it, because - although I know this without knowing it - Inger explained the 'why' to me. As she so succinctly pointed out, "When we read, our brains look for recognisable ‘slabs’ of text; certain arrangements of words we’ve come to expect to see after decades of reading English. Researchers call these slabs ‘schemas’." (Mewburn, 2021). Yep, I know about schemas. Mental models.

As Inger pointed out, "schemas are recurring patterns of words", with the most important English language schema being the following (Mewburn, 2021):

"Darwin studied finches"

To break that down (Mewburn, 2021):

"Darwin (subject – the doer)"

"studied (verb)"

"finches (object that was acted on)"

When writing we need to stick to the three groups, and try to ensure that we present them in that order when writing. It is harder to deliver than we think, and especially difficult for non-native English speakers. As Inger so beautifully puts it, getting the subject-verb-object regularly twirled "could be termed 'Yodanating' " (Mewburn, 2021). Grateful we are. 

But one of the best things about following this pattern is that we can see more easily when our sentences are missing one of the key elements. Or realise why we are getting so impatient because we are waiting for a native German speaker to finally deliver us a verb (which in German only comes at the end of the sentence) so we can make sense of what we are holding in short term memory. 

If we apply ourselves, we can train ourselves to seek the "Darwin studies finches" pattern. Eventually the pattern-sighting will become embedded, and we will have a new, and more straightforward understanding of writing.

Only a short jump to application into our own, clearer writing style. 


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