Start with the context first things first second things second

Start each paragraph with a topic sentence - a sentence that sets the context, that tells readers what the paragraph is about.

Even within a sentence, always set the context first. Research shows that people jump to act as soon as they see something that tells them to act. They don't always read on to see if more information restricts the action. That's the problem with a sentence like the one in Figure 8-22, from eHow's instructions on getting wine stains out of fabric.

For a fascinating study showing that people don't wait for the context, see Dixon, 1987.

Putting the "if" clause first gives people the restricting (context) information before they find out how to act (Figure 8-23).

You'll see the whole eHow page that this piece comes from in the next chapter on lists (Figures 9-18 and 9-19).

6. If washing by hand, rub the table salt into the stain Then pour boiling water onto It from a height of 12 to 36 Inches if the stain persists and if the fabric can tolerate high heat.

People may start pouring

reading the last part of boiling water without the sentence.

Figure 8-22 Putting the context after the action may cause sad consequences. Research shows that people act without reading the whole sentence.

If the stain persists and if the fabric can tolerate high heat, pour boiling water onto it from a height of 12 to 36 inches.

Write most "if, then" sentences with the "if" clause first.

Figure 8-23 My suggested revisions.

Carroll and his colleagues also noted this "jump to act" behavior when they watched people using software manuals. See Carroll, 1990.

Your first reaction to the paragraph in Case Study 8-2 may be "huh?" As you consider it, however, I think you'll quickly see that it has the same problem as the example in Figure 8-22.

8. Start with the context - first things first, second things second 193

Case Study 8-2 Starting with the context - the topic

Is the following paragraph instantly clear? If not, consider what you would do with this information if you were telling it to someone on the phone. Which part of this sentence would you say first? What would come next? How would you break up the information?

Approved fumigation with methyl bromide at normal atmospheric pressure, in accordance with the following procedure, upon arrival at the port of entry, is hereby prescribed as a condition of importation for shipments of

Slightly simplified from a U. S. Department of Agriculture regulation

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