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New and given information

‘New’ versus ‘Given’ information (referring back and giving new information)

Most sentences refer back to something already mentioned and give some new information to the reader. A common pattern in good writing is that it is the beginning of the sentence which refers back, providing a link with what has gone before. The end of the sentence usually contains the new information and it is on the end of the sentence that readers tend to focus their attention because this is where they expect to find new information.

Example: The time it takes the moon to orbit the Earth is called the lunar month. Twenty-seven days is one lunar month.

Here 'twenty seven days’ is new information and ‘one lunar month’ is referring back. We can rewrite this pair of sentences to improve the cohesion between them by referring back in the first part of the sentence and giving new information at the end of the sentence.

Example: The time it takes the moon to orbit the Earth is called the lunar month. One lunar month is twenty-seven days.

Information can be more easily understood, with less possibility of misinterpretation, if the information is positioned where the readers expect to find it. If, however, the writer frequently inverts information, then a text can become extremely difficult to read. Comprehension of the text will happen, but only after significant effort by the readers (if they can be bothered). An awareness of readers’ expectations regarding text structure will enable you to produce text which is more ‘readable’, which flows better, and which is therefore more effective.

Exercise

Read the two texts below and decide which version is most readable and why.

Text A

The first step in an archaeological excavation or survey is the selection of the site. First, the archaeologists should learn as much as they can about a site, such as who lived there, how old it is, and what timeframe it covered. They accomplish this initial analysis through the use of such things as maps, photographs, regional studies, oral histories, and historic documents of surrounding sites. Once this is done, the archaeologists must then assess the possible results of the excavation. They take into consideration whether or not the work done at a site will yield innovative or duplicated results. Because the information that comes from a site can only be viewed once, careful deliberation must also take place to determine whether or not the proper funds, technology, and human resources are available to perform the excavation properly.

 

Text B

The first step in an archaeological excavation or survey is the selection of the site. Information such as who lived there, how old it is, and what timeframe it covered is what archaeologists first need to learn about the site at this stage. Through the use of such things as maps, photographs, regional studies, oral histories, and historic documents of surrounding sites, the archaeologists accomplish this initial analysis. Once this is done, the possible results of the excavation must then be assessed by the archaeologists. Whether or not the work done at a site will yield innovative or duplicated results is taken into consideration. Careful deliberation must also take place to determine whether or not the proper funds, technology, and human resources are available to perform the excavation properly, because the information that comes from a site can only be viewed once.

Results

Text A is more easily readable than text B. This is because it follows the pattern of referring back to what is known and giving new information. In text A, most sentences start with something that has been mentioned in the previous sentence. This creates a good sense of cohesion and flow. Text B, however, starts most new sentences with a new idea, making it difficult for the reader to follow the thread of the story. If you reconsider text A below, you can see the connections made to previous information by the words which are highlighted.

Text A

The first step in an archaeological excavation or survey is the selection of the site. First, the archaeologists should learn as much as they can about a site, such as who lived there, how old it is, and what timeframe it covered. They accomplish this initial analysis through the use of such things as maps, photographs, regional studies, oral histories, and historic documents of surrounding sites. Once this is done, the archaeologists must then assess the possible results of the excavation. They take into consideration whether or not the work done at a site will yield innovative or duplicated results. Because the information that comes from a site can only be viewed once, careful deliberation must also take place to determine whether or not the proper funds, technology, and human resources are available to perform the excavation properly.