Addendum to my original post:

In the interest of conciseness, I’ll write the gist of this w/u up here.

Don’t use statements that alienate your readers. Especially not in the introduction to a story or book. Especially not if you want the reader to read the rest of the writing. You can make your reader uncomfortable with reading the text because they have read your alienating statements and feel that the text does not relate to them. It can become unimportant to the reader. They may even chose to stop reading because of your comments. This makes you lose the opportunity to get your real point across; no matter how good it was, the reader will likely never find out what you had to say.

Some ways to alienate your reader:

  • Stereotypingstereotypes are pretty much not a good way to introduce yourself, or a text, to a reader.

  • Generalizing –making other kinds of broad general statements about things. This can be regarded as stereotyping or not caring enough to make it more specific.

  • Insults – Insulting something, even if you are not insulting the reader directly, can cause the reader to feel that you are not only crude, rude, and less intelligent, but also that you don’t really think things through. Using insults to shock people is not a good justification. A good argument that the reader can easily understand is a much better way to get someone’s attention.

  • Boring statistics and other extensive information – Giving loads of statistics can cause readers to become disinterested, even to skim over information (if they don’t already read like that anyway). Statistics and other extensive information can be quite useful and interesting, but they can also alienate the reader. Most people don’t really care about all the nifty stuff you know about the topic. Set aside appendixes in the back of the book or have special chapters designated solely to your viewpoints. Don’t put this stuff in the introduction. Some stats and info is ok, but most readers read an introduction to be introduced to the text, not to read your doctoral thesis.

  • Wordiness - Most sane people don’t like long paragraphs with big words, it bogs down the mind and makes reading go slower. Most of the time it makes it feel like you are avoiding the point not cleverly clarifying it with careful use of terms.

  • It is also important to note that people need to see irregularity in the stuff they read. They need to see a variety of words used and a variety of paragraph lengths. Long paragraphs may be relevant to organization but it inspires a feeling of dread when you turn a page and realize that the next paragraph is huge. It's like reading a mountain one grain at a time. Break that sucker in half and mix in some little baby paragraphs to make the reading go smoother and faster. Several of these supposedly brief and concise points are examples of this bullet. Did you not dread reading on? Did you not feel your attention span slipping away? Don't write your stuff with a whole bunch of great big long paragraphs. It's boring.

There, that ends the important stuff. My original post, in it’s unedited form, follows after this point. Read it to find out why I started this node, but those with short attention spans can stop right here.

First, a small bit of back history,
I'm in a class in college where we read ancient texts that have affected humanity, and then discuss them.

The last book we read was the Tao Te Ching.

My edition is a Feng and English translation with an introduction by Jacob Needlemen. ISBN 0-679-72434-6.

The introduction was part of the assigned reading.

I usually expect introductions to introduce a book and be quick about it; this particular introduction was 27 pages long (page v to xxxii) and probably contained more words in it than the Tao itself. It took the form of a really long essay that attempted to explain the Tao Te Ching before the reader actually read it. But thats not what bothered me. That kind of thing is practically expected in the average college assigned reading.

That concludes the back history, now to the point where the author of the introduction could easily have alienated readers (me in particular):

There is a widely shared realization that modern man has arrogantly and foolishly believed in science, a product largely of the intellect alone and not of the whole man, as an instrument for imposing his will upon nature.
(Page xv of my version of the Tao Te Ching)

As a believer of science, I was ticked off after I read this. He not only insulted me, he insulted science and every other person who has believed, to some degree, in science. He uses two stereotypes in this quote. First, the one regarding those who believe in science. Second, who are these people with the widely shared realization? I've never heard it. If it was announced on the news or in the papers, I must have missed it. A certain shock factor also added to my ticked-offedness; there wasn't a hint that he'd make such a broad generalization.

The man had some good points in his long long introduction. However, he clouded my judgement of him with his insulting statement. I did put the book down a few times while reading the introduction, just to clear my head. When I did finish the intro, I put the book down and did something else for a few hours. It was a lot easier to come back and read the actual Tao with a clear mind.

So, my points are these: Don't alienate your readers by stereotyping them or assuming things about them. Whether or not you you wrote the stuff your introducing, what you say has an effect on how people view the stuff your introducing. You don't want to turn people off to something before they actually read it, do you? I don't see the point of explaining the book before the book actually begins (which is what Needleman did). I can understand bringing up relevant historical information and 'things to think about', but leave your views on what the text means until after the reader has had a chance to read the thing.

The Tao Te Ching was an interesting read, and I'd certainly recommend it to anyone. I'm glad I didn't let one man's stupid mistake influence the way I read it.

Don't alienate your readers! They're your audience, your target, making them angry is not a smart thing to do.

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