Mercy on our minds: lightening cognitive load with the known-new contract

Lawrence Evalyn and I have an interdisciplinary friendship. I study research methods and data visualization; he studies eighteenth century literature and the digital humanities. I taught him about pivot tables; he taught me about sentence stress. I still think I got the better half of that exchange.

Sentence stress is my favorite tool for writing about complicated topics. Communicating complexity is also my goal in data visualization, so sentence stress is a natural complement to a conversation about data storytelling.

According to the concept of sentence stress, every sentence has two parts: the topic position and the stress position. A sentence’s stress position establishes a sentence’s main idea. It always comes just before a full stop. For example, “When the pirates come over, we played board games” emphasizes the board games. “At our board game night, we played with pirates” emphasizes the pirates.

Continue reading “Mercy on our minds: lightening cognitive load with the known-new contract”


Elsewhere Online: How likely is likely?

Harvard Business Review has an interesting article on perceptions of probabilistic words. That is, if an event is described as a “real possibility,” how likely do people think it is?


There are also some results by gender. From the article: “women tend to place higher probabilities on ambiguous words and phrases such as ‘maybe,’ ‘possibly,’ and ‘might happen.'”


The writeup is a little light on methodology, so it’s hard to tell how representative the results are and the true extent of the gender differences. However, it’s a fascinating look at words which feel certain, but are often up for interpretation.