Six Things Readers Need: Predictability

Predictability is a sort of road map.Most people enjoy having some sense of direction when they embark upon their reading. They want to know where the author might be leading them. They want to know what landmarks they can hope to view. They want some predictability.

Predictability doesn’t mean boring; far from it. John Zorn’s piece, “Saigon Pickup,” is predictably unpredictable. One listens to the piece all the while waiting for that unpredictability. The listener who understands Zorn’s ideas concerning his music also understands that seeming unpredictability is one way of realizing those ideas. The listener expects to hear sudden shifts from one style of music to another. The listener might be jarred by some of those transitions, but the listener is willing and ready to experience them.

Similarly, predictability in writing doesn’t mean boring writing. Predictability simply is a way to let readers know what to expect. A writer can and should outline those expectations in the opening paragraph or a “start here” or “about” page. At the very least, the writer should indicate what is to follow. Some readers may appreciate a Dada-influenced piece, but, on the whole, most readers expect a composition to follow the normal patterns of writing. They have grown accustomed to being introduced to a main idea in the opening paragraph, to having that idea more fully explored in the body of the work, and to reaching some sort of conclusion regarding that idea in the final paragraph.

Predictability can be more nuanced; for instance, a reader familiar with Redhead Writing expects a certain tone and language. Without those things, Redhead Writing no longer is Redhead Writing. Readers would wonder what had happened to the irreverent voice and foul language. Readers find that voice and language predictable. They expect and need those things. Those things ground the reading experience. They tell the reader where he or she is and what to expect or not to expect.

Predictability, then, has nothing to do with worn-out or boring copy. It merely is a roadmap for the reader. It creates expectations and fulfills them. It tells readers what to expect, whether that be via an introductory paragraph or a writing style that embraces sarcasm and blue language.


  1. Nice article about PREDICTABILITY Erin 🙂 Both, predictability and unpredictability are vital in writing. Depends on writer and his writing style. But predictability means less excitement. no? I think the switching depends on the purpose of writing. The way how predictability involves in a poem differ from when it comes to an article. However it’s more than just a fact 🙂

    •  @Mayura I would have to disagree about predictability meaning less excitement. Predictability is just one aspect of the writing. When it supersedes other aspects, it can result in boring writing. For me, predictability has more to do with my perspective on a thing rather than how I speak about that thing (even though my perspective and my words should complement each other).
      Predictability is tied to purpose. For instance, I rarely write about social media on this blog. I could, but it would undercut the aims of the blog and my business. Predictability in that sense simply means that I say no to some topics. Fortunately, saying “no” opens other opportunities I might not have had.
      Does that make sense?

      •  @Erin F. Owh… Then I was wrong there. It makes sense for some extent Erin 🙂 Actually we have to align with our theme when writing. We can’t override it. Else it will get boring for readers as it becomes off-topic. But we mostly expose what’s in there with a title or something and readers always predict what’s it going to be. no? 🙂
        Thanks for your explanation dear 🙂 Don’t mad at me for imposing simple questions.

        •  @Mayura It wasn’t a simple question, and I like that you asked it. I had to think about my answer.
          Titles certainly can help with predictability but not always. It depends on the type of title being used. Some work as lures, and some are more descriptive.