Order: creating flow and comprehension

Where you start matters to where the reader will end

How to think about your text's order is the topic of this sixth and penultimate email of the Miirror Framework series.

First, think about the Message -- which is formed by Information and Intention.
Then think about the Reader -- which requires Rapport and Order.
Then Rewrite it.

The order of a text is the last piece of this puzzle on how to transform those abstract concepts in your head into comprehensible words for the reader. It is an often forgotten — or at least underestimated — part of writing.

No suspense

The goal of work-related writing must be to deliver value to the reader as soon as possible. Don't create suspense in your texts. Avoid the temptation of hiding a reward at the end of a tedious effort. It would be time-wasting and counter-productive, as lots of people would quit reading before getting to the intended reward. Your reader should know from the start the point of an email, an article or a report.

From familiar to new

Order your words, your sentences and your paragraphs from the most familiar to the less familiar concepts. The readers will assume that they are supposed to understand everything you are writing to them. So if an unknown idea appears, it is more likely that the reader will go back, not forward, looking for an explanation. A confusion at any point of the text will distract the reader from that point on, and it might be hard to put all the pieces together when the reader is going back and forward on your text all the time.

The order of the paragraphs represents the progression of the knowledge

On longer texts about complex topics, I prefer to order my writing from macro to micro. I organize the paragraphs first. The first paragraphs should depend only on concepts familiar to the reader. Then each subsequent paragraph should build upon ideas that I already presented in the text. The newest, harder to grasp concepts should always be in the final paragraphs. Even if it is the most important topic of the text.

To avoid conflict with the no-suspense rule, you might add a sentence at the beginning that states the point you want to make. Just mentioning this new, complicated concept, but in a comprehensible way. Making it clear somehow that you do not expect the reader to understand it at that moment.

The order of the sentences offers a step-by-step advancement

Then, I re-read each paragraph and think about the order of the sentences. You already know the core concept of that paragraph, now think about how you can form that concept, step-by-step, in the mind of the reader. You are still building an idea, starting with the more familiar blocks. The first sentence of a paragraph is of great importance, as it must both make it clear that you are now presenting a new concept — otherwise, you wouldn't be opening a new paragraph — and still be familiar and connected to the ideas already presented.

The order of the words create flow in the reading

Now check the structure of your sentences and the position of the words. In particular, pay attention to the transition between sentences. Do they transmit a feeling of continuity and fluency when reading? A great way to create flow in your writing is by making the last idea of the previous sentence to be mentioned again at the beginning of the next one.

Just like creating rapport, creating an order that will make your text easier to read is better made after the first draft. It also demands that you have a clear idea of the level of knowledge of your audience on that particular topic. If you incorrectly assume the reader already knows some fundamental concepts, you might alienate them from the start. On the other hand, if you start by explaining concepts that are too basic for the readers, they might think that text is not for them, and skip it entirely.