Use Your Natural Writing Expertise


You don't need a degree in writing to have expertise in writing. In fact, the biggest experts in writing are readers. And that includes all of us.

As readers, we know a lot. We know when we're confused or when information seems out-of-order. We know when somebody's tone sounds weird. We know when we can't find a writer's main point or figure out what we're supposed to do in response. We know when we get bored or give up during overly long, wordy paragraphs.

As readers ourselves, we know a lot about what works, and what doesn't work, in writing.

Often, when I'm beginning a writing workshop, I ask the participants about their goals for the session. Many learners respond with something like, "I want to feel more confident about my writing." Writing can feel intimidating. The good news? We can consult our own expertise when making writing decisions, increasing both our writing clarity and our confidence in writing.

Knowing what works for us as readers means we know what will likely work for other readers too. We can leverage this expertise of ours to make decisions about things like tone, level of detail, and organization - and much more. Let's take a look at how this might work.

Using Your Expertise to Decide on Tone

As readers, we know when a writer's tone doesn't sound quite right. To make decisions about tone, we can look at our word choice and put ourselves in the reader's position. Which of the following two sentences would you rather read in an email you'd received?

  1. We cannot add your partner to your account because you haven't completed Form D.

  2. When you complete Form D, we can add your partner to your account.

As readers, we feel the psychological component of writing. We can use that knowledge to manage the way our words might impact other readers too.

Using Your Expertise to Decide on Organization

As readers, we care most about what matters to us specifically - and we want to read that information first. When you're writing about three topics or more, try ranking them in an order of most to least important. Then, think about whether your reader would rank them the same way. Usually, you can put whatever topic matters most to your reader first, and go on from there.

For example, if I were writing about the increasingly horrible consequences of climate change, I might write about wildfires first if I'm writing to readers in California. But, I might start with hurricanes if I'm writing for folks in Southeast Asia or in Florida. Regardless, I'd order it according to reader interest and relevance - just like I like to read information myself.

Using Your Expertise to Decide on Level of Detail

As readers, we know we only want to read as much as we need to. We don't typically yearn for additional long paragraphs to get through. On the other hand, we also know what it's like to not understand the details or backstory of something we're reading about.

How much detail should a paragraph contain? It depends on the reader's needs, interests, and timeframe. Often, as long as we've covered the 5 W's (who, what, when, where, why), we've given enough detail for one paragraph.

What about when you're writing to a mixed audience, and some want lots of information but some only want a little? Start with the information everyone wants and keep that brief - likely by conveying the 5 W's and little more. After that, provide a "Background" or "Context" paragraph below - for readers who want more.

Readers as Writing Experts

Truth is, when you're stuck trying to decide how to manage a particular writing task, you can in many ways just ask yourself! Reflect on emails you've read that you've found easy to comprehend and act on. Reflect on tones you've "heard" through writing that rubbed you the wrong way. And think about the way an order of ideas can affect how a reader feels about those ideas.

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