Skip to main content

Reader Expectations

To write clearly, we must first understand what readers expect

We know what readers expect from us because we know how readers read.

Readers don't actually read the words on the page to know what is coming next. They subconsciously predict the words that they are most likely to see next based on what they have read just before.

correct predictions

If their predictions are correct, then readers continue to read and the text has flow.

incorrect predictions

If their predictions are incorrect, then readers have to stop reading. They feel confused; they wonder where they went wrong. They have to go back and re-read the last part to figure out what they missed.

Readers are not aware that they are constantly predicting what will come next. They do, however, feel uncomfortable with a text when their subconscious predictions are wrong. They stop reading, they feel confused or disoriented, they feel like the text is heavy and complicated and hard to read. All of these feelings can be caused by a text that does not meet the reader's expectations.

What readers expect

Fortunately, all human readers have the same expectations. We expect consistency, simplicity, and clarity.

Readers expect
  • parallelism
  • familiar information at the beginning of the sentence (in the topic position)
  • new information at the end of the sentence (in the stress position)
  • the verb to show the action
  • the subject and verb to be close together

The structure of your writing can affect how the reader interprets it and thus what you are actually communicating. Knowing what the reader expects at any given moment will allow you to present information in the order the reader expects to see it and thereby gain some control over how the reader interprets it.

Active Voice
Zombie Nouns