Describing your idea to your readers is kind of like putting together one of those “you assemble” computer desks that come in a box, complete with 30 pieces of fake wood, 62 screws, 61 washers, 17 do-hickeys and a few whatyoucall’ems.
If you don’t lay things out properly in the beginning, nothing works.
Yes, it’s tedious, but you have to lay everything out carefully, piece by piece, IN ORDER!, for it to work.
The same thing goes for your book. If ideas aren’t in order, with “Idea A” firmly connected to “Idea B,” and “Idea B” to “Idea C” and so on, your book won’t make a lot of sense to your readers. Or any sense at all.
Which of the following two passages is easier to understand?
This one: “As a consequence of his environmental exposures, he developed a cough, blackout spells, breathing difficulties, nausea, and was diagnosed as having asthma. He had headaches and irritation of the eyes, stomach aches, difficulty in concentrating, shortness of breath, sleep disturbances, difficulty in hearing and ringing in the ears. He became more irritable, had dizziness, light-headedness and decreased sexual desire. His nose and throat were irritated. He was diagnosed as having Anxiety Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.”
Or this one: “As a consequence of his environmental exposures, he developed a cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. He had stomach aches and nausea. His eyes, nose and throat were irritated. He had headaches, ringing in the ears and difficulty in hearing. He felt lightheaded and dizzy, and had blackout spells. He had difficulty in concentrating, sleep disturbances and decreased sexual desire. He was diagnosed as having asthma and Anxiety Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.”
In the first passage, symptoms are strewn about randomly. The first diagnosis of asthma, which has to do with the respiratory system, is mentioned after nausea, a gastrointestinal problem. The second diagnosis, Anxiety Disorder, is mentioned after nose that throat irritation.
The second passage is easier to follow because the symptoms are grouped more logically. The respiratory symptoms are placed together, stomach aches and nausea are next to each other, and the eyes, nose and throat are grouped. The two diagnoses are mentioned after all the symptoms are listed.
Assist your readers by organizing your material logically
If listing symptoms, for example, list them by body part or system, head-to-toe or by cause. Any logical approach is better than simply splattering them onto the page.
Consider this passage: “He was hired as a laborer. He sanded plaques, he painted. He earned $4.00 an hour when he began working for the company in 1979. He had to find and expedite rush orders. He boxed all the shipments. He cleaned out the spray guns every evening. In the morning, he drove empty paint cans left by the night shift to the certified disposal area. He mixed paints to produce special colors during the day. He put labels on the boxes and figured the postage. He used a spray gun to paint. He sanded with a hand-held electric sander. He earned $12.23 an hour in 1992 after his promotion to manager.”
Everything is the above passage is understandable. But things don’t connect, don’t click automatically as you scan the words. Try this: “He was hired as a laborer in 1979, earning $4.00 an hour. He was promoted to manager in 1992 and earned $12.23 an hour. His duties involved sanding, painting and shipping plaques. He used a hand-held electric sander to sand, and a spray gun to paint. When he arrived in the morning, he took the empty paint cans left by the night shift to the certified disposal area. During the day he mixed paints to produce special colors, and located and expedited rush orders. He also boxed, labeled and figured the postage for shipments. And at the end of every work day, he cleaned out the spray guns.”
The organization of this passage helps the information stick in the reader’s mind. The dates, pay rates and titles are put together. A general overview (duties involved sanding, painting and shipping plaques) is given. Then the specifics are reviewed, beginning with what he did in the morning, ending with what he did at the end of the day.
There is no guaranteed, all-purpose organization scheme
Just group things from A to Z, head-to-toe, morning to evening, beginning to end, or any other logical way.
Try organizing these sentences:
- He lost his friends. He lost his business. He was bothered by creditors. His credit record was ruined. His wife left him. As a result of his gambling habit, he ran through his money and went broke. His family thought he was a moron.
- His house is in lousy shape. The roof is falling in. The electrical system is shot. There are lots of weeds in the lawns. Rain comes in from the holes in the roof. The plumbing system is shot. The lawn looks terrible in front. Two windows are broken. The back lawn looks terrible, too.
- Student doctors learn anatomy, physiology and observe surgeries. They study biology and learn to examine patients.
- The upper gastrointestinal x-rays of 12/5/89 are normal. She was evaluated at General Hospital for abdominal pain on 10/1/88. She was seen in the Emergency Department at the County Hospital for epigastric pain on 10/12/92.
- As a result of his gambling habit, he ran through his money and went broke. He lost his wife and his friends, and his family thought he was a moron. He was bothered by creditors and his credit record was ruined. All this happened because of his gambling.
- His house is in lousy shape. The roof is falling in and rain comes in from the roof’s holes. Two windows are broken. The electrical and plumbing systems are shot. The front and back lawns look terrible, with lots of weeds.
- Student doctors learn anatomy, physiology and biology. They observe surgeries and learn to examine patients.
- She was evaluated at General Hospital for abdominal pain on 10/1/88. The upper gastrointestinal x-rays of 12/5/89 are normal. She was seen in the Emergency Department at the County Hospital for epigastric pain on 10/12/92.
For more ways to make your writing sparkle, see “Readable Writing Review.”
I’m Barry Fox, a New York Times #1 bestselling ghostwriter. I help executives, entrepreneurs, philanthropists and top professionals create top-notch memoirs and business books. I can also guide you through the self-publishing process. Call me at 818-917-5362.