I believe that I asked here (I can't imagine a better stackexchange for the subject matter, and I can't find any trace of where I would have asked elsewhere) a question requesting references to research on the effectiveness of "phrasing things in a hard way to force the reader to struggle with understanding the content." The examples furnished were from a mathematics author whose work I have been researching.

After feedback this was revised a bit to specify "memory retention" as the measure of effectiveness, and someone did come through with a related reference to a study where something like bad typeface improved retention rates, or something like that.

I haven't had time to follow up until now... but I can't find it! I think the question was closed, and that opens up the chance it was deleted. If someone could just recover the reference from the deleted post, I'd be very grateful.

1 Answer 1


Not certain, but possibly you still have access from your profile to deleted questions? Either way, as a moderator, I do, so I can help you out. :)

The question got closed as "too broad" on April 15th and was deleted automatically on April 25th 2017. Your question was:

Does this teaching tactic (intentional complication of exposition) have an established name, and is there evidence that it does or does not improve recall?

Arnon Weinberg commented:

You may be interested in "Processing Fluency/Ease". There is a large body of evidence that suggests that memory recall is significantly improved by making material hard-to-read (eg, using less readable fonts, poor choice of colours or contrast, or using other methods that make for difficult reading - example here: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21626231). I'm not sure if this extends to complex writing, but might get you started.

I will undelete this question since you seemingly did edit it along these lines as suggested by Arnon Weinberg:

@AliceD, I voted to close it as too broad. If it is edited down to something like "Does complex exposition improve memory recall?" then it would be answerable, but "Is there research on ... pretty much any topic ...?" is too broad for this forum.

I still recommend you to edit it into a more concise (less of a rant) to-the-point question (look at example questions tagged with ). Also, either add that reference to the author you are talking about, or leave him out of the story entirely, or include why you are unable to mention who the author you are talking about is.

Lastly, be sure to add your own answer in case you figure out an answer by yourself! :)

  • I'm certain when I looked this morning in my main user profile here, I saw Questions(0) and no trace of the question I asked. But now I see Questions(1) and the question is visible. Thanks for all your help recovering this information!
    – rschwieb
    Aug 10, 2017 at 13:11
  • This is the first time anyone has ever described a SE post I've authored as ranty: but that probably stems from not knowing the right terminology I'm grasping for. I'll try to improve it
    – rschwieb
    Aug 10, 2017 at 13:12
  • @rschwieb I believe it is the large portion of the question devoted to explaining who the author was, talking about his students etc, and other non-essentials, as opposed to trying to generalize this phenomon and merely using him as a short example that made me read it as an underlying rant (in addition, the fact that you did not want to mention him by name). Hope this helps with the edit. :) Meanwhile, I will clean out the current comment thread on that question a bit.
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Aug 10, 2017 at 13:17
  • As I'm sure you can see, someone was trying to nip the question in the bud by saying something to the effect of "the author was probably just being stupid/unskillful. Why don't you name him so we can decide." So it seemed necessary to give evidence the author was no fool, and to lend credence that it might have been intentional.
    – rschwieb
    Aug 10, 2017 at 13:49
  • In retrospect, though, I guess I could have framed the entire question without reference to any author, and such persons would probably not have thought to call the idea into question. In math.SE we typically encourage posters from including the line of thought that led up to a question, so habit carried over
    – rschwieb
    Aug 10, 2017 at 13:51
  • Extensively edited according to suggestions above.
    – rschwieb
    Aug 10, 2017 at 13:56
  • @rschwieb We also expect you to include the line of thought. Your previous phrasing just had such a big emphasis on the author (and students) that not mentioning the author did not make any sense. With the new edit this emphasis is reduced considerably, merely there to add context (as opposed to revolving the whole question around one particular author). Therefore, I reopened it, and removed the whole 'who is this author' thread. That said, you still did not answer why you do not simply name him. :) It seems like unnecessary conflict.
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Aug 10, 2017 at 14:02
  • Like I said, I probably should not have mentioned the author and just let the question spring from the head of Zeus. As for why I don't name him, I thought I explained that several times: I did not want the question to focus on him, just the technique. The last thing I would want to do is to drag his name into it. Anyone who needed to base their answer on God-knows-what-could-be-cherry-picked knowing the name would be barking up the wrong tree. I was just trying to keep the scope of the question on the rails and not digressing to be something about the author.
    – rschwieb
    Aug 10, 2017 at 14:12
  • But, as you said, the point is taken and I will avoid it in the future. I just was not prepared for the background to turn into such a distraction for the readership.
    – rschwieb
    Aug 10, 2017 at 14:15
  • Still, I feel you look at it the wrong way. It is up to you (the OP) to prove there is reason to ask the question (one of the reasons why a new close reason was recently introduced). In your case this means including any proof that this technique is actually being used (the author name would already prove that complex syntax is used, so you are not pulling that out of thin air, but not yet the reason why). Your edit now makes it much more clear this is fully anecdotal (which is believable and sufficient imho, but others might disagree).
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Aug 10, 2017 at 14:30
  • I'll get it eventually, don't worry. And thanks for referring me to this new feature. I know many people who would like to see it on math.SE, but given the volume of questions I think it's probably impractical in our case.
    – rschwieb
    Aug 10, 2017 at 14:33
  • @rschwieb This close reason is something we introduced just on this site. Separate SE sites can add their custom 'off-topic' close reasons to help define the scope of sites.
    – Steven Jeuris Mod
    Aug 10, 2017 at 14:37
  • Yes, I know all this. Thanks.
    – rschwieb
    Aug 10, 2017 at 14:54

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