How to get inside your reader’s mind

20 June 2009

     When I train a writing course I often begin by asking the class members to think about the kind of writing they like to read.  They usually come up with a list of descriptions like – easy to understand, clear and concise, easy vocabulary and so on.     

     I then tell them to keep those things in mind while they’re writing for others.  It’s like following a writer’s ‘golden rule’ – Write for others as you would have them write for you.

     Now I’m not so sure that’s the best advice.  Why not?

 Go Platinum

     I recently read a post by Sonia Simone where she talked about a ‘platinum rule’ for customer service -- Do unto others as they would want done to them. 

      What a difference!  The 'platinum rule' makes you focus on someone else instead of yourself. 

     So I started thinking about how to apply the ‘platinum rule’ to writing – Write for others as they would want you to write for them.

     One of the first steps of the TASTE writing process asks you to think about your reader’s expectations, wants and needs. 

     In a way, that’s like being a mind reader.  Not an easy task!  So difficult, in fact, that we often don’t even try.  But if you don’t think about your reader’s wants and needs, you’re just asking for trouble.  You’ll probably waste your own time and your reader’s.

 What to do    

     I suspect that a lot of your writing is for colleagues.  So think about your experience in writing for those people.  How did they respond?  Did they do what you asked?  Did they reply or act in a way that demonstrated they understood you?  If so, then you’re doing fine.  

     If not, then try this.  Ask for their input and feedback.  You can usually speak directly to your colleagues – by phone or face to face.  Do that before you write a document they’ll be reading.  Ask them what they want and need from that document.  Ask them for feedback on things you’ve written in the past.  And ask them for suggestions on how you can improve.

     Once you've practised this with people you know, it should be easier to think about what other readers might want and need.

     Applying the writer’s ‘platinum rule’ will take some time and effort.  But the payoff will be big.  You’ll win goodwill.  Your readers might even want to read what you write – because you’ve written for them in ways that they prefer.

     Do you have any other ideas about how to get inside your reader’s mind?  Please share them with us in the comments.

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