The communicator’s job has gotten a lot harder over the past 30 years. We’re all consuming content faster, with more options than have ever been available before. The volume is staggering, and information about anything is just a google search away. The proliferation of the blog has diluted the automatic authority that used to be associated with having written something. Writers/Editors – communicators – can’t just show up in the same way they used to. The audience is resistant. There’s no automatic trust just handed to the voice behind the words on the page. We have to earn our way past the resistance.
The first and best way to do this is to avoid adding to it.
- Get your grammar correct. Anything else reads sloppy and you will have a hard time convincing people of your authority with your literary fly open.
- Don’t make your audience feel stupid. Easy ways to make your audience feel stupid are:
- Overusing jargon
- Not explaining your acronyms
- Drawing conclusions without explaining the rationale behind the conclusions
- Assuming that their baseline of expertise matches your own
- Using language that is hard to understand – just because you k now $10.oo words doesn’t mean you need to spend them all in the same place
- Don’t give them a reason to step away from your material. Reasons to set your writing down include:
- Factual errors
- Convoluted sentence structure that requires them to read one sentence repeatedly to untie the knot of clauses, commas, and semicolons
- Chapter/Section breaks at a place where all of the current questions are answered and you haven’t set up any new questions that the reader must keep reading to answer
- Hiding your enthusiasm for the material in language that is more about your ideas about how a serious writer should sound than it is about conveying information
- Never getting to the point
- Not drawing a thread through your reasoning that the audience can follow
- Illogical flow of information
- Leading with an assertion they disagree with instead of setting up your reasoning first and letting them draw their own conclusions… This falls under the “show, don’t tell” maxim of good writing.
- Don’t over-manipulate the audience. One of the reasons why I’m anti-The Notebook is because the whole thing is deliberately designed to make you cry. It feels exploitative to me and I don’t like it.
- Don’t be boring. You can avoid being boring by:
- Using active voice
- Varying your sentence structure
- Sounding like yourself
- Using metaphors and/or similes to involve your reader’s imagination
Particularly when you are helping other people articulate their ideas, your first job is to identify the things that are going to spark the audience’s resistance and edit/rewrite/reword. Like a spy in the house of prose, you want to slip past the guards who are waiting for a good excuse to dismiss you, and get inside to plant your idea before you are identified as an interloper.
And really, if you can deliver a written product that doesn’t trigger the audience’s resistance, you’re most of the way there and a great deal further than most of your competition gets.