The Old/New Contract



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The Old/New Contract
Linguistic theory suggests that readers comprehend information best and perceive writing as most coherent when sentences begin with information the reader already knows (old information) and end with new information.
Let's break this down a bit. A sentence can be divided into two parts. In the first part (the topic position), readers expect to see the context for understanding the sentence. They want to know the topic of this sentence and *also* how it relates to what they have just read. By contrast, in the second part (the stress position), readers expect to see the most exciting and informative part of the sentence. They therefore focus most of their interpretative effort on understanding this latter part of the sentence. Thus, the old/new contract suggests that backward-linking old information and the main subject of the sentence should appear in the opening topic position while new, emphasis-worthy information should appear in the ending stress position.
Take a look at the following examples to see how coherence has been improved by moving around old and new information:

1a. Light rock-and-roll can be as comforting to a college student as classical music can be to a professor. Most radio stations play light rock-and-roll. Themes about sex, alcohol, and violence come up in the lyrics of light rock-and-roll. But country music deals with sex, alcohol, and violence too.

1b. Light rock-and-roll can be as comforting to a college student as classical music can be to a professor. Light rock-and-roll is played by most radio stations. The lyrics of light rock-and-roll bring up themes about sex, alcohol, and violence. But these themes come up in country music too.

2a. The 5-year plan does not indicate a clearly defined commitment to long-range environment research. For instance, the development of techniques rather than the identification and definition of important long-range issues is the subject of the plan where it does address long-range research.


2b. The 5-year plan does not indicate a clearly defined commitment to long-range environment research. For instance, where the plan does address long-range research, it discusses the development of techniques rather than the identification and definition of important long-range issues.

Now you try. Note the sentences in the following paragraphs that fail to deliver on the old/new contract and revise these sentences to better meet readers' needs:
1. Some astonishing questions about the nature of the universe have been raised by scientists exploring the nature of black holes in space. The collapse of a dead star into a point perhaps no larger than a marble creates a black hole. So much matter compressed into so little volume changes the fabric of space around it in profoundly puzzling ways.

2.

Research Writing is probably the most valuable course for college students. The assignments for this course are three short expository essays and two long research papers. Thus the course requires a great deal of students' time, often too much in their view. But future success in college is almost synonymous with passing Research Writing. Some of the benefits of the course are gaining greater familiarity with the library and developing organizational skills, analytic ability, and smooth writing style. Some of its disadvantages are cramped fingers, bloodshot eyes, and irritability before deadlines. Only first-year students may take Research Writing.


3. People are injuring themselves at home, work and out in public from slipping and falling. The material of the shoe sole, the material of the floor surface that the individual is walking across, and a contaminant, like water or oil, that may decrease friction between the two materials all contribute to slipping.

4. This chapter was written to introduce you to the basic concepts of Alain Badiou's theory of ethics. A thorough explication will also be presented, situating Badiou's philosophy in the context of other contemporary approaches. Furthermore, three arguments that suggest new avenues for philosophical inquiry will be outlined, challenging Badiou's fundamental concepts.  

POTENTIAL ANSWERS

1. Some astonishing questions about the nature of the universe have been raised by scientists exploring the nature of black holes in space. A black hole forms when a dead star collapses into a point perhaps no larger than a marble. So much matter compressed into so little volume changes the fabric of space around it in profoundly puzzling ways.

2. Research Writing is probably the most valuable course for college students. The assignments for this course are three short expository essays and two long research papers. Thus the course requires a great deal of students' time, often too much in their view. Passing Research Writing is almost synonymous with future success in college. Some of the benefits of the course are gaining greater familiarity with the library and developing organizational skills, analytic ability, and smooth writing style. Some of its disadvantages are cramped fingers, bloodshot eyes, and irritability before deadlines. Only first-year students may take Research Writing.



3. People are injuring themselves at home, work and out in public from slipping and falling. Three main factors contribute to slipping: the material of the shoe sole, the material of the floor surface that the individual is walking across, and a contaminant, like water or oil, that may decrease friction between the two materials.

4. This chapter was written to introduce you to the basic concepts of Alain Badiou's theory of ethics. This theory will be thoroughly explicated and situated in the context of other contemporary approaches. Furthermore, Badiou's fundamental concepts will be challenged by three arguments suggesting new avenues for philosophical inquiry.


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