Writing and speaking are very different. They involve a different kind of interface between the sender (writer or speaker) and the receiver (reader or listener).
Speaking comes naturally to humans, from a baby’s babblings to adult speech, learned from years of daily listening. In almost any conversation, the speaker (often subconsciously) watches the listener’s eyes and general body language. This provides one level of feedback. Another level is more direct. If the listener doesn’t understand something or has a rebuttal, he or she can easily interrupt.
However, writing presents a different scenario. In an e-mail, text message, blog or the like, a dialog changes to a monolog. There’s no immediate feedback. In fact, many times, we don’t even know who the receivers (readers) are. In spite of that, the goal of effective writing is to somehow know the audience and write something that informs, entertains, enlightens, etc. And this without the benefit of observing the reader actually reacting to our writing.
Who’s Your Audience?
So, how does a writer do that? First, a good writer needs to visualize his or her audience. What do they know? What will make them say “Aha!” or “Ah” or “Wow!”? The writer then has to imagine having a conversation with or delivering a speech to this pretend audience. Making this personal connection to the reader, talking to a wide audience, is the hallmark of truly effective writing.
The style with which you write is very much based on who your readers are. Writing for an academic reader can allow a much higher level of word usage than if you were writing a column for a newspaper. Most newspaper articles are written at a 6th grade reading level. And if you consider the internet, depending upon the website, the level could even be lower.
So, unless you’re writing for a specific audience, you should consider getting rid of jargon, and any erudite, academic or legal language. You may choose to use contractions (as in speaking), like “you’re” instead of “you are”, “it’s” instead of “it is”, and so on.
Testing New Material
A number of writers use blogs, webinars, podcasts or live speaking engagements as a way of testing new material. After getting lots of truly valuable feedback and questions, the writer can convert the tested text into a solid manuscript. It’s something like running a focus-group for a new product or service.
But what if you’re not in a position to do any of the above? Should you not write? Give up? The answer is No. What you can do instead is to talk to as many people as you can — in person (preferably), by phone, Skype or whatever. Ask them questions, or better yet, get them to ask you questions. What’s on their minds? What problems are they trying to solve? And so on. Obviously, these need to be in your field of writing. It would be silly for someone to ask you how you’d solve the Middle East conflict if your specialty area happened to be cooking.
Think about what and how you write, the audience you’re trying to reach, and the message you’d like them to receive. And have fun!
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