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Tell me about yourself: Harnessing the power of reader-focused writing

Have you ever been stuck talking to a blowhard at a party or networking event? All they can talk about is I, I, I … me, me, me … If you’re like most people, you can’t get away from them fast enough.

When your writing is all about you, and not about the people you’re writing for, your readers feel the same way. Following are some plain language tips to help you better serve your readers and communicate more effectively.

Consider your audience

Think about the person, or group of people, who will be reading what you are writing:

  • Are they adults, children, or seniors?
  • How much education have they completed?
  • Do they belong to a certain profession?
  • What sort of social or political perspectives might they share?
  • What tone and language will they feel most comfortable with?

When you write with these kinds of questions in mind, your content will reflect the interests of your readers — they will see themselves in what you are writing and give you their attention.

Think about your purpose for writing and the questions your readers might have. Make the answers to those questions easy to find.

Avoid the “curse of knowledge”

If you are like most writers, your instinct is to write about what you know from the comfort of your own perspective.

If you’re an expert in your field, it can be hard to write clearly about your area of expertise. You and your colleagues share a shorthand of jargon and abbreviations that make for efficient communication among yourselves. But your readers often won’t share your understanding.

You need to step outside of your insider knowledge when you present your ideas to others. Use common, familiar words when possible and explain complex terms or ideas when necessary. Provide examples that your readers can relate to.

Look critically at your writing and flag any terms or ideas that might be confusing or unfamiliar to your readers. Ask an editor (or someone who is representative of your audience) for feedback.

Speak directly to your readers

As we’ve already established, this isn’t about you; it’s about the reader. Speak to them directly – use “you” to help them relate to what you’re saying.

Your document may ultimately be read by a great many people, but you should write for each individual reader. Writing with a specific person in mind forces you to consider their needs.

Use plain language

Plain language is clear, concise, and well organized. The advice above is all based on plain language principles. The objective is to tell your readers what they need to know in language they can easily understand.

It’s all about them.

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