Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Don't make the reader guess

Quick quiz: What bothers me about the opening grafs to this story?

Koch Industries’ $13.2 billion purchase of paper products giant Georgia Pacific Corp. will create one of S.C.’s largest employers and the nation’s largest private company.

Koch employs 1,300 people in the state, while Georgia-Pacific employs about 2,200.

The cash deal, announced Sunday, would marry the maker of Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups and Quilted Northern tissue with a company three times its size in sales.

Koch has expanded vertically in recent years beyond petrochemical commodities. In South Carolina in the past four years, it has bought a DuPont nylon plant in Camden, a former Hoechst polyester plant in Spartanburg and a Michelin tire textiles plant in Winnsboro.

It's a small thing, but easily corrected. (Let's forget for the moment the jargonish fourth graf about expanding vertically -- you mean it got taller?)

Consider the structure of the four grafs:
1) Koch-GP
2) Koch-GP (with a secondary Koch small-GP large)
3) ?? (paper maker-smaller) -?? (larger)
4) Koch

The story is structured so that Koch is in the lead position in every graf except the one in question. So when I come to that middle graf, my mind first puts Koch in the lead position. That's reinforced by the graf directly before it that makes Koch small and GP large because the graf in question has the paper maker smaller.

Yes, the lede says GP is a "paper products maker," but the reference is so glancing, it's easily lost. So just make it a little easier on the reader and insert the helpful hint:

The cash deal, announced Sunday, would marry GP, the maker of Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups and Quilted Northern tissue, with a company three times its size in sales.

Sometimes an extra word carries a whole lot of extra understanding.

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