by Liz Strauss
Where to Start
It can seem complicated to write for a readership that includes beginners to experts. I’ve done it for over two decades. It can seem like there’s too much to consider to meet them all at their own level.
Yet my experience is that beginners and experts are not that different when they read. They might choose to read different things, but we all do. Beyond that difference of content, beginners, experts and those of us in the middle — every reader — wants the same things from a writer.
9 +1 Things Every Reader Wants
Basically there are 9 things every reader wants, plus one for blog readers. Let’s imagine I’m one of those readers. Actually I am one. I’ll tell you the things readers want as they’ve been telling me for over 20 years.
- Pick an idea that intrigues you. If it intrigues you, I’m likely to be intrigued by it too. At the very least, I’ll be curious about what it was about the idea that captured your interest and intrigued you.
- Trace out a simple structure. Use the structure to cut a path through your idea. Then it’s easy for me to follow you.
- Write for someone who’s like you, but doesn’t know what you know
about the topic. Trying to write for everyone is like trying to talk
penguins and parachutes at the same time.
- Make clear decisions about what to include. Look things over and be
lethal about taking out what doesn’t need to be there. Believe me, I’ll
remember that you don’t waste words when I decide I want to return.
5. Tell me. even if you think it’s obvious. It’s only obvious, if
you know it. I need to face the stove before I start cooking. If you
don’t tell me, how can you be sure I know?
6. Set aside your expensive vocabulary. Don’t use big words, when
perfectly good little words communicate easily. I don’t read with an
online dictionary, and I don’t want to.
7. Don’t talk down or up to me. Let’s agree on an equal intellectual
playing field. I’m smart, but that doesn’t mean I know anything about
this topic. I read lots of folks who know more. The ones I read let me
keep my self-respect too.
8. Don’t flinch and offer apologies around me. I start wondering. Is
something wrong with your work or with how you see me? I want to like
what you do. I want you to like me too. I want to start and finish
thinking of you as a effective writer in control. Let me keep that
9. At the end, review what you said, but do be sensitive to when you’re venting and when the horse is already dead.
10. PLUS ONE FOR BLOGGING: Don’t make me invisible or embarrass me.
Answer my comments and questions in your comment field. Don’t answer
other people and ignore me. When you do answer, please, please, please,
remember you had to learn once too.
All readers want a writer who can provide an experience that is
entertaining, enlightening, worth the time they spend reading what the
writer has written. Readers want a writer who understands that they
don’t have to read any old thing that is put before them.
Readers know they can’t be an expert at everything. That’s the
reason they are reading what we’re writing. They come to get news and
new information. They come ready to like us and to learn things.
All we have to do is talk to our readers, give them what we promise
in a way that shows that we want them to come back. Listening to our
readers is branding; it’s promotion; it’s community building. It’s
writing that speaks to readers.
Now it’s my turn to listen. What points did I miss when I made this list? I’m sure I must have missed something.