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Your Readers May Know Nothing, But They’re Not Stupid

12th April 2013 Posted in Blog, Writing 2 Comments

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In the task of writing, one thing is clear: you have to know your reader.  Even with the research you do and the length of time you’ve spent with an audience, it can be tempting to speak down to the reader.

Not only are you going to lose your audience because of your desire to assume the reader knows nothing, but you’ll also lose credibility with the readers who supported you from the start.

While it’s true that you need to ensure your facts are clear and your information is detailed, your reader isn’t stupid.  They can see when you’re unsure about a topic and you misrepresent details.

A reader can also tell when you’re over-explaining something because it makes you feel better to include copious details from your research.

How can you avoid assuming less of your reader?  Start by looking at what readers want to know, and then ask yourself what they need to know.  For example, if you’re writing about a medication, think about whether the chemical structure is valuable for the reader’s experience.

The key is to remember not only what readers know, but also what they need to find out from you.  It can help to make a list of the main pieces of information you want readers to know at the end.  Then, pass on that knowledge in the article.

Consider whether your audience needs proof of what you’re saying.  If they do, back up what you’ve said with other sources and references.  If the audience is more interested in the ideas, it may not be necessary to belabor your point(s).

Readers come to your writing to learn.  They want to know what you have learned, and they want to find out how this information impacts their lives. 

Sometimes, too many details can be exhaustive and seem condescending.

(Want to find out if you’re on the right track?  Send your article to a longtime reader ahead of time to see how he or she feels about it.  If the feedback you get indicates your tone is dismissive, then it’s time to edit.)

As a writer, how do you reach out to avoid seeming dismissive or condescending in your writing? Has it ever been a problem? Does it depend on the nature of what you are writing? Please leave a comment.

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  1. By Nick Stamoulis of Brick Marketingon 17th, April 2013 at 7:16 pm

    In the digital age, where we type, upload, and then publish, we sometimes overlook areas in our content. Sometimes printing out an article and reviewing with a red pen can help identify if you are being over-explanatory, or if you aren’t providing enough details. You don’t want to confuse your readers, but you also don’t want to push them away. Looking at your content with a fresh pair of eyes prior to publishing is a good rule of thumb.

  2. By editoron 6th, May 2013 at 2:42 pm

    Nick – have to agree. And unless you are pressed by a deadline, it can help to come back to the piece the following day, too and review it in a new frame of mind.

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