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9.5: Respect and Goodwill

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    Listen to an audio version of this page (6 min, 18 sec):

    We don’t tend to trust people who don’t respect us and don’t wish us well. Regardless of how formal or informal or how intimate or distanced the argument is, if the reader feels the writer is disrespectful and doesn’t care about the reader’s perspective or experience, the reader will lose trust.

    Conversely, if the reader feels that the writer understands the reader's perspective and uses that understanding to make the experience of reading the argument as straightforward and intellectually pleasant as possible, the reader will trust the writer more. Goodwill and respect distinguish a good argument from a rant which gives vent to the arguer’s feelings while ignoring what readers might need.


    One hand reaches out to offer a cutout black heart and another hand extends to accept it.
    Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash under the Unsplash License.


    Here are a few concrete actions writers can take to show goodwill and respect toward readers:

    • Express ideas in a clear and straightforward way. Making things clear often takes a lot of mental sweat. Readers generally do not appreciate having to do the work of sorting out unnecessarily convoluted sentences.
    • Guide readers through the ideas with clear transitions. Showing how each part of the essay relates to the next also takes mental sweat on the part of the writer. Readers will appreciate not being left dangling at the end of one paragraph, trying to figure out why the writer switches topics in the next and how the two topics are connected.
    • Tell the reader what to expect from the structure of the argument. If there will be several parts to the argument, readers may feel supported when the writer offers a clear map of what is coming. An example might be "I will first describe how neurons carry messages from the brain to other parts of the body before I explain how those messaging pathways can be disrupted in neurological disorders." Telling the readers what the writer plans to do in first person is also called the “I” of method because the "I" is used not to describe personal experience but to describe the writer's methods in the text itself. If there is more than one writer, as in scientific papers, of course, this would become the "we" of method. Of course, too much description of what the writer is planning to do can become boring and can get in the way of the momentum of the argument.
    • Anticipate and answer likely questions. This shows respect because the writer is giving the reader credit in advance for intelligence, curiosity, and critical thinking. One way to do this is to refer to the reader directly as “you,” as in “you may well ask.” It can also be done in third person, as in the phrases "some will wonder" and "this raises the question of...."
    • Correct misconceptions respectfully. If a writer is frustrated with popular misconceptions on a topic, they should give the reader the benefit of the doubt and politely assume that such daft misconceptions belong to others. We can refer to those who hold the misconception in the third person in a phrase like "some may assume that" rather than targeting the reader with a "you may be assuming that..."

    Practice Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    1. Read the paragraphs below and reflect on the strategies the writer used to show respect and goodwill. 
      • Are there parts that are expressed clearly? Are there others that can be revised for clarity? 
      • Are there enough transitions to guide you?  
      • Are there any questions that show that the author gives the reader credit for intelligence, curiosity, or critical thinking? Is there a question that they could add? 
    2. Revise one of the paragraphs to show more respect and goodwill.

      Paragraph 1

      There have been many theories about the idea of nature in mental health. Many researchers have begun to investigate certain theories that focus on the correlation between our cognitive processes and the natural world. The most recognized theories are the Attention Restoration Theory (ART), the Stress Reduction Theory (SRT), and specific preferences for nature. The Attention Restoration Theory (ART), developed and popularized by Stephen and Rachel Kaplan, professors of psychology at the University of Michigan, proposes that exposure to nature can help us improve our ability to concentrate as well as reduce the stress through the automatic generation of physiologic responses. This can be attributed to the more relaxed sensation people may have when exposed to a natural environment. Stephen and Rachel Kaplan also proposed that there are four cognitive states on the way to restoration, which include a clearer head/concentration, mental fatigue recovery, soft fascination/interest, and reflection and restoration. In the first stage, thoughts, worries, and concerns are passed through the mind and are simply flowing through the mind naturally. During the second stage, restoration begins as the directed attention recovers and is restored. The third stage is focused on distracting the individual as they become engaged in low restoring activities, giving them time and space to calm down. Lastly, as a result of spending time in this environment, the individual can feel like they can relax and reflect on themselves and their goals. This is the most essential part of the restorative stage.

      Paragraph 2

      One factor that social media primarily affects are sleep patterns. A study concluded that 37% of 268 young adolescents confirmed that increased internet use is associated with shorter sleep duration, later bedtimes and rise times, longer sleep latencies, and increased daytime tiredness (Woods 1). Sleep in a teenager’s life is one of the utmost important factors to healthy development. According to Better Health, sleep deprivation can cause an unhealthy mental state that can lead to depression, aggression, low self-esteem, reduced physical and academic performance, and poor decision making. This leads to a vicious cycle: the cell phone causes sleep deprivation, which then causes mental health issues, which are confronted with more cell phone use. This is problematic because they distract themselves with their devices and don’t realize they need professional help.

    This page titled 9.5: Respect and Goodwill is shared under a CC BY-NC license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Anna Mills (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .