Timing is everything.
If I tell you in advance that this photograph of a triumphant Olympic athlete displays his overpowering joy at having brought honor and acclaim to his country, his team, and his family (who suffered terrible deprivations to fund his training), you will clearly see, and perhaps want to share, his tremendous joy, mixed with overwhelming gratitude.
On the other hand, if I tell you in advance that this photograph shows the terrible disappointment of an Olympic athlete whose team member was taken to the hospital in critical condition just before the awards ceremony, suffering from a neck fracture that will possibly paralyze him for the rest of his life, you will see his grief.
Readers believe what they are told until they smell something fishy. But they can be persuaded to accept even very fishy evidence if they’re told in advance that they’re entering an aquarium, a hatchery, or a salmon breeding tank.
The time to tell them to expect fish, though, obviously, is BEFORE we usher them to the edge of our mariculture pond. In other words, if you’re going to hit them with a fish, tell them in advance that it’s a fish.
The practical application for essay writing is to prepare your readers carefully for the evidence to come.
Never. NEVER. NEVER! present your evidence first, and then try to explain what you wanted your readers to conclude from it.
The effect of offering up your evidence first and drawing your readers’ attention to it afterwards is analogous to driving your tour group past a scenic panorama and then explaining to them what a glorious view they just missed if only you had drawn their attention to it in the first place. (Oh well, it’s too late to see it now. We have an itinerary to follow.)
Obviously, the more effective approach is to prepare your readers to accept the relevance and validity of the evidence you are about to present. Tell them what to expect, where it comes from, and what to pay attention to in order to achieve the maximum benefit of what they’re about to witness.
The credibility effect can be compounded with a careful presentation of two pieces of evidence. For example, if I first show you this photograph of a New York City street taken in 1900 and identify the ONE CAR among a mass of horse-drawn carriages . . .
Where is the Car?
. . . then show you a photograph of the same New York street taken just ten years later in 1910 and ask you to find the horse among a mass of automobiles . . .
Where is the Horse?
. . . you might actually convince yourself that a revolutionary change occurred in American transportation in the thirteen years from 1900 to 1913 because I have carefully prepared you to accept the documentary evidence I am showing you as reliable AND inviting you to verify for yourself the very conclusion I want you to draw.
Just Passed Scenic Views
So, if I tell you in my feedback that you’ve violated the principle of “Just Passed Scenic Views,” please recognize that you’ve let your readers decide for themselves what your evidence means. To be frank, they can’t be trusted to draw the right conclusions.
I’d like to know if you find this advice useful and memorable. Please leave me a critical analysis below.