Monday, August 31, 2009

Readers can't help judging you by your writing

On this blog I’ve devoted a lot of space to discussing why we writers should develop and practice the habit of empathy.* By empathy I mean this: We should always try to understand our readers, know what they are likely to be thinking, and anticipate how they will respond to everything we write.

As you have probably noticed, I write my critiques in terms of empathy. As I critique each passage, I describe what most readers are probably thinking. I write my critiques this way in order to help you sharpen your ability to think of the reader as you write or edit. A well-developed habit of empathy – more than anything else – is the mark of a professional.

Here’s another viewpoint on the same topic. Bestselling author Seth Godin recently wrote a blog post about careless writing. In an apologetic tone, he said he doesn’t intend to conclude that careless writers are stupid people, but that he can’t help doing so. And he hinted that many other readers react the same way he does.

The Takeaway: Always keep in mind that your intelligent readers judge you by the precision and clarity of your writing.

*Here are six posts about empathy (most recent posts first):
“The Gobbledygook Manifesto,” by David Meerman Scott
When a reader says your writing is not clear
Empathy for the non-technical reader
Writing can make or break the sale
Empathy always matters – sometimes a lot
The greatest error: failure to empathize

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