Monday, July 18, 2011

Check Your Motives Before You Write

In a recent blog, Seth Godin advocated keeping our writing simple. So often he points out, people take forever to get to the point, use long words and jargon and are frankly quite boring.

I’ve often found so much depends on the purpose of the writing. Is it to educate and inform the reader? Or is it more about you, and the opportunity to show off your knowledge?

Your reason for writing will impact the way you write. When you are genuinely trying to get a point across, or hopefully educate the reader, then there’s less jargon and the wording is simple. When it’s all about you, and this opportunity to showcase your “stuff,” people tend to trot out their most elaborate vocabularly, try to sound superior with their use of jargon and are often long-winded, reluctant to give up the “written” stage.

Years ago when I was working as a consultant I was asked to synthesize several lengthy research documents into ten pages that would convey the research findings in layman terms to a group of school trustees. I did it but not without some challenges from one person on the committee. She wanted some of her statistical data included but from my perspective it didn’t add to the knowledge of the readers, and in fact could have confused them as it introduced another tangent to an already complex topic.

Truth was she wanted it included because it highlighted her expertise, not because it would add to the learning. Our ego is a funny thing and it can sometimes get in the way of doing what’s right; of forgetting about the reader and putting ourselves first instead.

As an editor I often come up against the writer’s ego, and sometimes the writer can’t take the objective observations about their piece, forgetting that my goal is to make an article understood and valued by the reader.

Contrary to their belief, it is not all about them. It’s not personal. It’s about getting the point across succinctly and in an interesting way that will hold the readers’ attention.

So next time you have to write something, ask yourself why am I doing this? Your answer may shape what you produce and when it is more about the reader, and less about you, you’ll find the right words.

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