There is a good reason writing is categorised as a craft. Historically, people have always romanticised the “writer”. Anchored at their desk, in the middle of a sea of crushed sheets of paper. Their pens have been compared to swords, endowed with power and purpose. They have been pictured as people with the superhuman power of influence and vision – and that is in no way an easy job.
The author has to find the right words to invoke certain insight and emotions; and play with grammar, punctuation and sentence structure to keep the writer engaged enough to inspire action. Good writing is driven by empathy and the ability to almost read a reader’s mind. It shares knowledge that the user might find useful, answer questions that they might have, share stories to make them chuckle – the possibilities are truly endless.
If you’re a writer, I’m sure you must have come across multiple tips on how to write better content. Nuggets of advice like using simple vocabulary, sectioning your piece are considered writing 101, but have you ever wondered how these tips actually shape the reader’s experience?
It is one thing to know the so-called “rules” behind good content, but when you are looking to form a “connection” with your audience diving a little deeper surely pays off. Reading is a complex process. Each word, punctuation, and line or para break plays a key role in shaping the writer’s experience. Allow me the honour to break down some of the most popular writing tips and show you why they work in engaging the reader’s mind:
Big, heavy or complex words may seem impressive, but they are not considered the best practice when writing for an audience. This is because they are not used in day-to-day interactions. So, our braids have to work extra hard to retrieve their associated meanings. Not only does this make the process a lot more tiring, but also makes the message harder to retain. Simple words, or words that are common tongue, need very little work. Since we hear and use them every day, their meanings are easier to fetch.
Additionally, have you ever wondered why big words make a speech seem “robotic” or “fake” to us? Other than the fact that we cannot imagine any person using them in daily banter (the exception being Shashi Tharoor, of course), these words also don’t incite an emotional reaction. Little or no emotional reaction means little to no connection, which is basically doomsday in the content landscape.
It is understandable that one cannot always stick to simple words. Bigger words, however uncommon in daily interactions, also play an important role in writing a good piece – it is even advisable to use them to assert expertise within a field. However, going by the general demographic, there is a higher chance of your audience being amateurs or students of the field than experts.
It is important to estimate the average reader’s knowledge base and explain what you can’t simplify. Of course, every word and concept is a Google search but you will have to agree that jumping back and forth between an article and a Google could become really frustrating, real quick.
By offering to simplify complex words and concepts, you make your piece far more inclusive and add much more value to your reader’s experience. Instead of being intimidated by what they don’t know, your readers can expand their knowledge without having to make much effort. Over time, this would make your readers count on you as a source of information and establish you, as an author or an organisation, as the trusted brand within the field.
Formatting a piece is just as important as writing it. The modern-day reader is always on the move, and would mostly come across your piece while waiting at a dentist’s office, bus stop, or even at the cash register. This poses us with the challenge of not just engaging our audience, but also allowing them to make the most out of every read. “Skimming” is a very common reading practice, where readers skim for important information in a piece. Now, while this might seem “rude” or a wasteful use of good content, it is a very natural response to the kind of busy lives we lead today. We don’t read for leisure as much as we read to fill the time.
If you want to overcome this, it is advisable to format one’s pieces such that they adequately highlight all the important takeaways. Sub-headings for each section can guide the reader to the parts they find interesting, using bullet points can help the reader go through lists more easily, and highlights, through text formatting, can help them take mental notes. By formatting your piece, you are making the reader’s experience a lot easier, and helping them consume more of your piece in a lesser amount of time.
Another psychological benefit to sectioning and highlighting your piece is that it improves the reader’s attention span. Our brain always has a hard time focussing, but changes in font weights, coloured highlights or bullet points introduce variety and keep the brain engaged.
Have you seen this piece about using varying sentence lengths in your writing to turn your words into music:
I think the post says it all, but let me elaborate just a little. We are trained to pause at full stops and commas. These pauses allow our brain to rest and store away whatever it has learned so far. When the sentences vary in length, we give our brain regular breaks while also keeping the “uncertainty” alive. This helps the brain stay more alert and engaged, hence making the piece “sing”.
Of course, I am not talking about literal ballads and operas (you could if you wanted to), but play around with your craft. As a writer, your words have the power to paint pictures for the mind’s eye and take the reader through silent journeys. Take a step towards understanding the reader’s experience. Understand their mind so that they can better understand your words. Imagine their lives, habits – just for kicks – and that will help you write pieces that click. These tips that you read about from time to time are not just structures to make a piece look good. They help you know your reader better. And that’s all you really need to write a good piece of content – to know the mind that’s reading it on the other side.