TRAXLER, M. J., & GERNSBACHER, M. A. (1993). Improving written communication through perspective taking. Language and Cognitive Processes, 8, 311-334.
To convey their ideas successfully, writers must envision how readers will interpret their texts. In our previous research (Traxler & Gernsbacher, 1992), we discovered that writers who received feedback from their readers successfully revised descriptions of geometric figures, whereas writers who did not receive feedback did not. We also discovered that writers who received feedback from their readers on one set of descriptions wrote better descriptions of a new set of geometric figures. We concluded that feedback-even a minimal form of feedback-helps writers learn to envision how readers will interpret their texts. In the present research, we investigated another way that writers can learn to envision how readers will interpret their texts. Our treatment placed writers “in their readers’ shoes”. In three experiments, half the writers performed a task that their readers would subsequently perform, and the other half of the writers performed a control task. In our first and second experiments, the writers who gained their readers’ perspective by performing their readers’ task successfully revised their descriptions of geometric figures, whereas writers who performed the control task did not. In our third experiment, we discovered that writers who performed their readers’ task did not improve their descriptions merely because they were exposed to examples of other writers’ descriptions. We concluded that gaining their readers’ perspective helps writers communicate more clearly because perspective-taking helps writers form a mental representation of how readers interpret their texts.