Never! – unless all you want to do is meet some legal obligation. In that case, who cares if no-one reads or understands? But if you want people to read, understand and act on your message, you must do more than merely tell. You must tell in a way that makes sense to your readers and makes contact with them.
We’ve probably all seen “I’ve told you” messages. It’s clear that the writer doesn’t really care too much about their reader. These pompous writers force the reader to work hard unscrambling thoughts and making sense of poorly structured, poorly worded text. Often they deliberately use jargon, cumbersome expressions or lofty words in an effort to impress the reader. Sometimes these writers are deliberately obscure, so that they can say “gotcha” when the reader misunderstands.
You are probably reading text like this whenever you feel you are getting lost, whenever you have to re-read sentences and paragraphs to extract meaning.
Good writers make life easy for the reader. They work hard to help people read, understand and act on information.
Effective communicators take on the responsibility for helping others understand. They don’t shove this responsibility on the reader.
To do this they work hard to see things from the readers’ perspective. They put themselves in the readers’ shoes, asking searching questions before they put finger to keyboard. They ask things like:
- why should the reader read this?
- what information are they most interested in?
- how will this message link with what readers already know?
- what words and sentence structures are my readers familiar with?
- what do readers need to do with this information? what actions or decisions will follow?
They then write from the readers’ point of view.
“Writing is not about you, it’s about your reader. The sooner you can take yourself out of the picture and focus on doing good for your reader, the quicker you’ll be a good writer.” Michael Masterton