How It Works

Nutshell<

How It Works<

You can solve many information flow problems by following three simple steps:

  1. Look at the first seven or eight words in your sentence.
  2. Answer the question: Do these words contain information that will be instantly familiar to my reader?
  3. If necessary, revise the sentence so that it contains familiar information in the first seven or eight words.

What to Look For<

The following paragraph, written for a general audience and not a group of specialists about ancient Greek culture, gives its readers much more information than the previous example. It is the first paragraph of a paper on the 5th century Greek historian, Thucydides. As you read, think about how well you understand the information that this paragraph presents:

Political pragmatists like Thucydides argue that morality plays a small role in conflicts between nations. In The Peloponnesian War’s narrative of the conflict between realism and liberal idealism, Thucydides illustrates the supremacy of power interests in deciding the outcome of state politics by analyzing the war between Athens and Sparta. The "Melian Dialogue" in Thucydides’ narrative demonstrates a number of instances in which the self-interested desire for power wins out over the “right” thing to do. Against Corcyra, a small island state west of the Greek mainland, the self-interest of Athens wins out over fairness and morality. In spite of Corinth’s claims that the time had come for Corcyra to repay Corinth for past deeds, Athens eventually chooses to ally with Corcyra.

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Done<

Political pragmatists like Thucydides argue that morality plays a small role in conflicts between nations. In The Peloponnesian War’s narrative of the conflict between realism and liberal idealism, Thucydides illustrates the supremacy of power interests in deciding the outcome of state politics by analyzing the war between Athens and Sparta. The "Melian Dialogue" in Thucydides’ narrative demonstrates a number of instances in which the self-interested desire for power wins out over the “right” thing to do. Against Corcyra, a small island state west of the Greek mainland, the self-interest of Athens wins out over fairness and morality. In spite of Corinth’s claims that the time had come for Corcyra to repay Corinth for past deeds, Athens eventually chooses to ally with Corcyra.

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The Principles at Work<

Most of its intended readers would find this paragraph pretty difficult to follow. The problem, however, is not that the information in the paragraph is too complicated to understand; it’s that every sentence begins with information that is unfamiliar to anyone new to Thucydides and his work.

To get a sense of this, look again at the paragraph above. We’ve underlined the first eight or so words of each sentence, and bolded the first main piece of information in each sentence. As you can see, the writer starts each sentence with a piece of information that most of his readers would find unfamiliar or complicated.

What to Look For:<

Let’s say you’re asked to rewrite this paragraph to introduce the material to a group of classmates who know nothing about Thucydides or “political pragmatism.” You try to make all this information easy for them to understand by starting with a piece of information that they’re already familiar with from class: the ancient Greek city, Athens.

Read through this revision, and ask yourself:

  • How does this revision compare to the first draft? Do you think your classmates will have an easier time reading it than the original version?

Politicians in ancient Athens debated whether or not morality should play a role in the real-life conflicts between nations. This ancient Athenian debate was recorded by the historian Thucydides, whose narrative, The Peloponnesian War, examines the conflict between realism and liberal idealism. Analyzing the war between Athens and Sparta, Thucydides illustrates the supremacy of power interests in deciding the outcome of state politics. The "Melian Dialogue” is one of many illustrative instances in Thucydides’ narrative in which Athens’ self-interested desire for power wins out over the “right” thing to do. In it, the self-interest of Athens wins out over fairness and morality against Corcyra, a small island state west of the Greek mainland. Indeed, Athens eventually chooses to ally itself with Corcyra in spite of Corinth’s claims that the time had come for Corcyra to repay them for past deeds.

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Click here to reveal our analysis of this sentence.<

The Principles At Work<

Your classmates will find your revision much easier to follow than the original paragraph. That’s because almost every sentence starts with familiar information.

Click on each sentence to see how its intended reader responds to the main bits of information in it.

Politicians in ancient Athens debated whether or not morality should play a role in the real-life conflicts between nations. This ancient Athenian debate was recorded by the historian Thucydides, whose narrative, The Peloponnesian War, examines the conflict between realism and liberal idealism. Analyzing the war between Athens and Sparta, Thucydides illustrates the supremacy of power interests in deciding the outcome of state politics. The "Melian Dialogue” is one of many illustrative instances in Thucydides’ narrative in which Athens’ self-interested desire for power wins out over the “right” thing to do. In it, the self-interest of Athens wins out over fairness and morality against Corcyra, a small island state west of the Greek mainland. Indeed, Athens eventually chooses to ally itself with Corcyra in spite of Corinth’s claims that the time had come for Corcyra to repay them for past deeds.

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The "Melian Dialogue” is one of many illustrative instances in Thucydides’ narrative in which Athens’ self-interested desire for power wins out over the “right” thing to do.

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Some classmates had a problem with this tricky sentence. That’s because it doesn’t start with any information that they know about. This doesn’t mean that the sentence is hopeless, however. It just means that it might need to be reorganized so that the familiar information comes first.

Here’s that problem sentence again. Identify whether the bolded term is probably familiar or unfamiliar by dragging it into the boxes below. The sentence will revise itself as you move new information to the end of the sentence and put the old information at the beginning of it.

The "Melian Dialogue” is one of many illustrative instances in Thucydides’ narrative in which Athens’ self-interested desire for power wins out over the “right” thing to do.

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Old Information<

  • Drop Here!

New Information<

  • Drop Here!






Done<

Politicians in ancient Athens debated whether or not morality should play a role in the real-life conflicts between nations. This ancient Athenian debate was recorded by the historian Thucydides, whose narrative, The Peloponnesian War, examines the conflict between realism and liberal idealism. Analyzing the war between Athens and Sparta, Thucydides illustrates the supremacy of power interests in deciding the outcome of state politics. In Thucydides’ narrative, Athens’ self-interested desire for power wins out over the “right” thing to do in a number of instances, such as the "Melian Dialogue.” In it, the self-interest of Athens wins out over fairness and morality against Corcyra, a small island state west of the Greek mainland. Indeed, Athens eventually chooses to ally with Corcyra in spite of Corinth’s claims that the time had come for Corcyra to repay them for past deeds.

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