Monday, May 3, 2010

As you write, picture your reader

This is a simple, powerful technique: Picture your reader.

Before writing any important document, mentally review what you know about your target reader: age, sex, occupation, experience, title, knowledge, interests.

Then try to picture this person in your mind, as opposed to merely thinking, for example, “A single, male software developer, between 21 and 35, living in a metropolitan area in the United States; moving up in his profession; enjoys reading science fiction.” Go further and imagine how this man would look and dress. Give him a name.

Even better

Instead of imagining a person, acquire an actual picture of an actual person. The person can be someone you know or someone you merely know of; for example, if you are marketing a product, get a picture of a software developer who bought the product.

Look at this picture before you start writing, and say to yourself. “I am writing this to Jim.”

Even better

Tape the picture above your monitor. Or paste it into Outlook or set it up as wallpaper. As you write, occasionally glance at the picture. When in doubt about diction, tone, or level of detail, ask yourself, “What would Jim think of this (word, sentence, paragraph or idea)?”

If this technique is new to you, it may sound contrived. But be aware that many experienced writers use this technique to increase their empathy and focus their attention. Try it.

The Takeaway: It’s good to describe your target reader in words. It’s even better to imagine what he or she looks like. It’s best to get a real picture of a real person; keep this picture handy and glance at it occasionally as you write.

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