Writing for your readers

Sharpening your writing
Beautiful writing
(digitalart ID10043412)


When writing nonfiction, it’s essential that you give your readers top priority. You want them to understand your message as easily as possible. Often, they will stop reading if it’s all too hard.

So here are some questions for you to consider to increase the reader-friendliness of your writing.

  • Are your assumptions about your readers valid?
    •  Who exactly are your readers? Not just the person you picture as you write (perhaps your client), but also others (the client’s manager or accountant) who will need to understand your message before they can make a decision.
    • How much technical or industry knowledge do your readers have? How many technical terms can you use, or will you need to explain them?
      • Use footnotes, end-notes or a glossary for longer, formal documents;  enclosing the explanation in brackets works well in other situations.
  • What sort of language will you use?
    • Does your writing need to be formal? Or can it be more friendly?
    • Can you reduce the complexity of the information?
      •  Remember to keep the paragraph and sentence length and structure as simple as possible. Generally, the more complex the subject, the simpler the writing needs to be.
      • Breaking your writing up into small chunks (rather than long paragraphs) gives readers time to digest each piece of information before moving on to the next.
  • What will be the best way to present the content?
    • Should you start with a summary of the content? This allows those who need only the main points to understand the ‘bare bones’ of the content, while those who need to understand the details can read in full.
      •  Consider placing additional information (background material, supporting evidence, research details) into appendixes at the end of the document.
      •  Signpost the flow of your document by using a range of techniques (headings, ordered lists, underlining, bold, italics, judicious use of colour). But don’t overdo it; you risk losing their value.
    •  Will it be easier for your readers if you include tables, graphs, photos or some other graphic?
      • Let the illustration speak for itself: long explanations of the illustration are rarely helpful.
  • Have you organised your ideas in a reader-friendly way?
    • Sometimes this is the most difficult part of the writing process, but it is important. And it needs to happen before you start writing.
      •  Here’s one suggestion. On a large piece of paper or a whiteboard, write down the important points you want to make – it doesn’t matter what order they’re in at this stage. Just getting them out of your head and onto paper will allow you to see what order they should be in. Now sort the ideas into related groups, give each group a working title, then sort the groups into a logical order. Try a number of combinations, then decide what order will best suit your readers.
      •  If you’re going to use headings, the working titles of the groups will become the basis for the heading text.
  • How does the text sit on the page?
    • Use headings, consistent paragraph spacing, tables and illustrations to break the text into chunks.
    • Consistency in your format choices means your readers don’t have to decide how parts fit together.
    • Use page breaks to avoid ‘widows and orphans’ and tables that break across consecutive pages.

When you’ve written your document, put it aside for a period, then come back to it using your reader’s eyes, rather than your writer’s eyes.
Review it yourself, ask a trusted colleague or ‘outsider’ to look it over, or ask a professional editor to give it that final polish.

Remember – you write for your readers, so do all that you can to make it as easy as possible for them to read and understand what you have written.

What causes you to stop reading a blog, article, report, etc?

You’ll find more tips to sharpen your writing at www.perfectpages.net.au


14 thoughts on “Writing for your readers

  1. Wow Desolie

    So much great advice here – I’ve been writing all my life in various careers and Im now writing technical manuals for new users of financial software – boy what a learning curve that has been! I have to keep remembering that although I am an expert user of the software and take so much for granted when writing for a new user its back to basics to ensure that the information provided is understandable and usable!

    Thanks for your great tips 🙂



    1. Hello Leanne, great to have you visit here.

      One of the hardest things for business and technical writers to understand is the importance of the reader’s perspective. Separating yourself from your knowledge and experience and expressing it clearly for the beginner can be a challenge.

      ‘… understandable and usable’ – that’s your aim. Well done!

      I’m sure the writing will become easier with practice 🙂

  2. You make it all look so easy –
    So beautifully spaced, with easy scannable headings –
    And such a wealth of pertinent points – Its amazing how many little things go into making a great ‘whole’ 🙂

    1. Thanks Linda, for your comment. There’s always a complexity of little things that contribute to a successful whole – the same applies to your maps (which I love) 🙂

      Showing you what I mean is more effective than telling you.

      Perhaps I’ll see some of these tips incorporated into your writing?

  3. Keeping long & technical documents as simple as possible is always a challenge, which, as you’ve highlighted, really needs to be reader-friendly. And that applies to all writing.

    1. Thanks for dropping by, Hari

      Yes, it can be difficult for business and technical writers who have to conform to a template or strict style guide. Using short paragraphs, lists, headings, tables and illustrations can be useful.

      I’ve just begun exploring ‘creative’ writing, and I’m really enjoying being able to try out different ways to have the text sit on the page.

  4. I love your blog Desolie, you really know how to present your ideas with succinct precision.

    Appealing formatting helps, but ideas formulated with finesse is what you’re good at.

    Thank you for this pertinent reminder.

    aka Catherine White Photography

    1. Thank you, Catherine.

      As an expert photographer, you’d appreciate the importance of how ‘things’ look. I want writers to think about their work in terms of the ‘picture’ as well the actual words.

  5. Enormous amount of fabulous advice here Desolie!
    I feel it’s the text book on how to ensure the reader is captivated, influenced, educated!
    Thank you

    Sally | Fast Tracks Manager Productivity

    1. Thanks for dropping by again, Sally, and for your generous words.

      One of the hardest things for many business and technical writers to learn is that they are writing for the reader, not to demonstrate how clever they are.

      Hope you find it helpful for your future writing projects.

      1. Very helpful, thank you; now bottle all this wisdom up and sell it for millions!

        I am often in a situation of needing to write to/for people who have English as either a 2nd or 3rd language so the reader is very much ‘front of mind’ in those situations; and I tend to draft, rest, re-draft rather than rush through and hit the send button. Two tips that could help in every situation and not just the specific language based occurrences.

        Sally | Fast Tracks Manager Productivity

      2. Yes, you’re so right, Sally. Taking the time to step away from your writing and coming back with fresh eyes is such important advice.

        Unfortunately, we all seem to be so busy these days that we forget to do that. And it’s especially embarrassing when you claim to be a writing expert of some sort when you find a mistake.

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