3 September 2009
You mean if I don’t have kids I’m not a good writer?
Of course not.
What I'm saying is that readers are like kids. And if you know how to deal with kids you’ll be able to appeal to readers a bit better.
How is that? Well, let’s think about kids’ behaviour.
Kids are impatient
They wriggle and squirm. They get bored easily. They have short attention spans.
Have you ever picked up a book and started reading – only to put it down after about twenty pages because you just couldn’t get into it? That’s happened to me more than once! (I’m such a big baby.)
I want the author to grab my attention, to pull me into the story and keep me occupied with juicy details and fast-paced action.
Kids need to be led
Children’s short attention spans require that you sometimes need to take them by the hand and lead them to where you want them to be.
If you don’t precisely spell out the action you want your reader to take, they’ll go off somewhere else and forget everything you’ve said.
Kids are easily distracted
Have you ever taken a child to Toys ‘R Us? Mistake.
If you and your kids walk into the store just to ‘window shop’, the kids will run wild, going from one toy to the next to the next – never stopping for long.
And if you tell them that you’ll buy them one toy – what do they do? They pick up one thing, then another, then another – and look at you with dismay. They might even ask you to buy two or three toys. They just can’t decide.
Kids ask ‘Why?’
Why do I have to eat the broccoli, Mommy? Why do I have to go to school? Why is the sky blue, Daddy? Why do I have to brush my teeth and go to bed?
Parents will sometimes carefully explain the reasons why. But after a while, even the most patient among us will just say, ‘Because I said so – and I’m the boss. That’s why!’
So how do you deal with your readers (kids)?
Respect your reader’s time. Give only the information that is relevant to your purpose. Organise the information logically, and put related information together so that it’s easy to follow.
State a very clear and precise action your reader needs to take. If the action involves several steps, number them like instructions. You may need to include the action more than once, but stating it at or near the end of the document is best.
Limit a document (especially emails) to one subject – and try to limit the reader’s action to a single item. Don’t be tempted to write about two things in the same email. Write a separate one.
Even if you’re the ‘boss’ (or the authority on a topic), saying ‘because I said so’ is no way to build trust between yourself and your readers. Show them the respect they deserve. Give support to any proposal – the reasons why your idea is a good one. Carefully document any evidence that supports your argument.