Why do I encourage writers to focus on their readers, rather than how expertly they write?
Written communication to a large extent is one dimensional. All the reader has is what’s in front of them.
But when we talk to people, there are auditory and visual clues that help us convey our message.
Listeners ‘read’ our facial expressions and watch our body language to improve their understanding of what we’re saying. They can see the twinkle in my eye when I make a facetious comment – they know not to take me seriously.
But if I were to write that comment, can I be sure it will not be taken as an insult?
Listeners can hear the inflections and changing tones in my voice.
A question is recognised by the rising inflection at the end of the sentence.
In its written form, it would appear as’ Do you want me to do that?’ The question mark tells readers that a question is being asked.
If I wanted to emphasise me, I’d say that word a little more firmly or loudly; but how do I make that distinction when I write?
I could use bold, hoping that the reader will notice that the word is bold and that they know what it suggests.
Perhaps the greatest advantage oral communication has over writing is the opportunity for feedback.
Listeners can ask questions, make comments, paraphrase back to me – and it happens immediately.
Both parties can complete the conversation feeling fairly confident that the message has been understood.
Unfortunately, we don’t necessarily have that same level of confidence when writing. Yes, our readers can contact us with their questions or comments, but that doesn’t happen very often in today’s fast-paced life.
So how can we by-pass those potential hurdles?
- Know your message. Be sure you know exactly what you want your readers to know, understand or do by the time they’ve finished reading. It’s the same technique marketing mentors teach us: your call to action, your 30-second speil, your summary. Try out versions until you’re sure you know your message is saying exactly what you want it to say.
- Know your readers. Have a mental picture of your reader, give her a name, understand what sort of writing she’ll relate to, understand what she’d like to know. Decide what language style (formal, informal, chatty, serious, light-hearted) will be most appropriate. How many specialised terms or abbreviations can you use, will you need to explain them, how? Could a graphic (table, illustration, graph, photo) be used instead of a chunk of text? You’ll certainly gain focus and clarity when you answer these question (and any others that help you understand your reader) before you begin to plan your writing.
- Review your writing before you publish. When you’ve finished writing, put it to one side for as long as possible, then come back to it with fresh eyes. You’ll see what you have written, not what you meant to write. Read out loud – hearing what you’ve written will alert you to mistakes or clumsy constructions. And if you need to take a breath before you reach the end of a sentence, it would probably benefit from being turned into two shorter sentences. If possible, print out your document – reading it in a different format often lets mistakes jump out at you. Have a trusted colleague (preferably someone who’s not particularly familiar with the subject) review and comment.
Putting together all the elements that I’ve written about both here and in earlier posts will help you produce writing that your readers will want to read right though to the conclusion.
Have you found any other techniques to help you focus on making reading a pleasure for your readers?
Remember, I can help you become a better writer than you ever thought you could be: contact me through my website.
You will be confident that your writing is clear, engaging and sharp.