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How to Give Better Directions

Word order makes a difference, according to a new study.
relates to How to Give Better Directions
Settawat Udom / Shutterstock.com

Giving verbal directions is a dying art, now that most of us navigate by smartphone. But sometimes there’s no substitute for human instructions to get you oriented and on your way—and according to linguists, not all directions are equally helpful.

People often describe destinations relationally, mentioning the target and a landmark to help orient the listener—for example, “the bakery is next to the car wash.” Research has shown that people prefer to name landmarks that are larger and easier to see. A new study conducted at the University of Aberdeen tested whether the order of words in the description also affects a listener’s ability to find a given destination.