Improving Relevance
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How to Express your Intentions in the most Relevant way to the Reader...

By understanding how your reader infers meaning and how they identify the relevance of your message, you can write your article in a way that will appear interesting and highly relevant.

How the reader infers meaning...

Whatever you write, the reader will naturally interpret and infer some meaning behind it. The inferred meaning will be based on the information you have provided and their own experiences.

In order to guide the reader to your desired meaning, expectation of relevance must be raised. This is achieved by informing the reader of your intentions. An excellent way of doing this is by outlining your 'promise' clearly and openly at the beginning of your article.

The reader will only hold interest in your article if the intentions behind the information meets their expectations of relevance to their experiences and circumstances.

When is your Information Relevant?

Your information can be said to be relevant when the reader is able to apply their own experiences in terms of memory, perception and inference and obtain conclusions that matter to them. This could be improving their knowledge, settling a doubt, confirming a suspicion, or correcting a mistaken impression.

By creating a familiar environment, you can include experiences which the reader will relate to. You can then use this environment to provide the information that steers the reader to your desired meaning.

The higher the level of sophistication of the reader, the higher the expectation of relevance will be expected. Depending on the level of sophistication of the reader you are interested in, you can distort the environment to suit the message.

A sophisticated understander will be able to understand and detect deception. With this reader, you can focus the message within the environment and use 'alternate universes' to infer your message swiftly and concisely.

A cautious optimist will be able to detect deliberate deception, such as irony. With this reader, you must be careful that the environment is plausible, otherwise they may wrongly interpret the meaning behind your message.

A naively optimistic interpreter will accept the first interpretation they find. With this reader, you must ensure that the environment does not violate true experiences, otherwise they may also wrongly interpret the meaning behind your message.

Providing the right information...

Traditional relevance theory [Grice, H. Paul (1913-1988)]. suggests there are four principles that provide expectations of relevance to the reader. These are known are the Gricean Maxims :

  • Maxim of Quality: Truth
    • Do not say what you believe to be false.
    • Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence.
  • Maxim of Quantity: Information
    • Make your contribution as informative as is required for the current purposes of the exchange.
    • Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.
  • Maxim of Relation: Relevance
    • Be relevant.
  • Maxim of Manner: Clarity
    • Avoid obscurity of expression.
    • Avoid ambiguity.
    • Be brief.
    • Be orderly.

As a rational reader will have a natural tendency to infer relevance in all situations, the reader will choose the closest principle that meets their own expectations.

However, the Gricean Maxims must hold true according to your anticipated reader. Truth, for example, will still be met where deception is used for the sophisticated understander if it is used to create an environment where the reader uses the deception to infer the correct meaning.

If the reader can immediately apply this new information with their experiences and deduce positive conclusions, then the information is relevant and valuable to the reader.

If the reader takes the new information and then chooses experiences that provides the greatest relevance, then the relevance of the information will vary between readers. Your article will provide more worthwhile conclusions to the reader with the most experience.

Therefore to improve relevance, you need to express meaning by providing the most appropriate principles of information that satisfy the Gricean Maxims, and create the most appropriate environment for your desired reader.

If you allow for different levels of sophistication of reader to infer meaning, you must create their expectations based on different maxims. If you can achieve this, the result will be that your article will be relevant to readers at all levels of experiences, and hence seen as an incredibly powerful and very relevant article.

Summary
By carefully expressing your message so that the meaning can either be implied within the article or elsewhere on your website, then your articles will be more relevant to the reader. This will make your website far more interesting and attractive, and encourage more returning visitors.
Further Info

[1] Grice, H. Paul. 1961. The causal theory of perception. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume 35: 121-152. Partially reprinted in H. Paul Grice 1989: 224-247.

[2] Communication and Cognition (Sperber & Wilson 1986a; 1987a,b) and updated in Sperber & Wilson 1995, 1998a, 2002; Wilson & Sperber 2002

[3] Sperber, Dan and Deirdre Wilson. (2004) "Relevance Theory" in G. Ward and L. Horn (eds) Handbook of Pragmatics. Oxford: Blackwell, 607-632.