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Further Reading


Weekly Salvo

August 2, 2016

Need to Write Better? Try Better Reading (and less web-reading, after you read this, of course...)

Lots of us could use help in writing smarter, deeper, and more clearly. Some suggestive research on writing is related at Mother Nature Network. There seems to be a correlation between better writing skills and reading more literary and complex texts.

According to a recent University of Florida study of 48 MBA students, what students read in college directly affects the level of writing they achieve. In the study, researchers surveyed students about their reading materials and habits, and they also took a writing sample from their cover letters. Researchers then ran those samples - as well as samples from news stories the participants had read - through programs to assess the writings' complexity.

Upon analyzing their findings, researchers concluded that students who read academic journals and literary fiction scored higher in measures of writing complexity than those who read primarily popular fiction or web content published on sites like BuzzFeed, Reddit and The Huffington Post.

Critics say it doesn't really prove a cause and effect: maybe better writers prefer more complex texts to begin with. But what you read does affect you:

Research has found that deep reading is distinctive from other types of reading when we merely peruse text superficially or skim for information. The language found in literary fiction, for example, is complex and rich in detail, metaphor and allusion, and the brain handles this language by creating a mental representation that draws on the same brain regions that would be active if you were experiencing the event in real life. For example, a 2012 Emory University study found that when subjects read a metaphor involving texture, such as "the singer had a velvet voice," the reader's sensory cortex - the region that perceives texture through touch - became active.

In other words, actively reading such prose is an immersive experience, one that can be difficult to replicate when reading material online where, for example, you're bombarded with hyperlinks that force you to choose whether to remain on a page or click away. Maryanne Wolf, a psychologist at Tufts University, says the reading we do online can transform us into "mere decoders of information," weakening our ability to become engaged in deep reading. And writer Nicholas Carr argues that the time we spend on the web is even restructuring our brains, shortening our attention spans and making deep reading difficult.

Okay, so turn off the computer for a while and dig out an old volume of poetry. Or consider these related—and printer friendly—Salvo Articles:

Visually Impaired
Roald Dahl's Warning About Screen Entertainment Might Open Some Eyes
by Michael S. Moynihan

Best Reads
Do We Need a "Canon" of Great Books?
by Cameron Wybrow

The Neuro Transformers
Culture & the Malleability of the Human Brain
by Robin Phillips

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