Reader-Focused Writing

Oops!  This one is a bit late.  I forgot to load it up to the site.  Not a great example of reader-focused writing, I’m afraid, but I hope you consider the content of the post anyway.

If you want to keep readers in mind while you write, first you must understand who your readers are likely to be.

How much does your typical reader know?

Maybe you are writing a nonfiction book.  Is it likely to be read by a general audience?  If so, then you’ll have to explain more than if your book is likely to be read by professionals in the field or by academics studying the same topic.

Pay attention to how much your typical reader is likely to know and, as you write, be sure to provide them with enough information to understand your material, but not so much that they feel overwhelmed.

What conventions do readers expect?

Maybe you are writing a mystery novel.  Is it likely to be read by mystery enthusiasts?  If so, you are going to have to follow a stricter set of rules in developing your novel than you would if you were reaching a cross-genre audience.  Readers expect you to know what those rules and conventions are, and they expect you to make it more than worth their while if you break any of them.

Pay attention to which conventions your typical reader is likely to expect and, as you write, be sure to follow any you don’t have to break for the sake of your story.  Be especially sure that when you break with convention you achieve something more than worth your readers’ while.

What level of reading proficiency has your typical reader obtained?

Not all readers read at the same level; and even when they’ve obtained a similar level, they don’t always cope well with the same style.  Most American readers want a mix of short and long sentences, without any of them being overly complex.  They also want those sentences to be filled mostly with words they know and understand.  The context of the surrounding sentences should help them figure out the meaning of unfamiliar words, but it’s alright if they have to reach for the dictionary once in a while, too.  There are definitely websites for that, and I’d be surprise if there weren’t a few apps, too.

Pay attention to the reading proficiency and expected vocabulary of your typical reader and, as you write, keep within those confines without dumbing down your material.  Be sure to give readers contextual clues and/or the definitions of unfamiliar words, and be especially sure that any words you use that are outside your readers’ normal vocabulary are used correctly.

What style of writing does your typical reader expect?

Different markets require different styles.  While some elements bleed over and others are universal, there’s a standard approach between different kinds of writing.  Should you use a style typical to newspapers or magazines?  Should you rely on anecdotes or facts?  Do you present facts as quotes or as statements in your own voice?  If you’re writing fiction, how much description do you include?  How fast should your pace be?  How does your theme impact your style?

Even if you are writing for advanced readers, there is a difference between the typical advanced reader, an academic, a legal professional, and a corporate professional.  The writing style and base assumptions for these different readers vary dramatically.  The finer you define your audience, the more likely jargon becomes an issue.  If you want to keep your audience to a narrow niche, then you can use the appropriate jargon as long as you are sure it’s appropriate and widely accepted.  Most popular nonfiction tries to reach a broader audience, so you need to watch your jargon carefully.

The more you consider these questions the closer you will come to meeting your readers’ needs and expectations.  The closer you come, the more likely you are to satisfying your readers and winning their long-term support.

About Stephanie Allen Crist

Stephanie created and produces in answer to a call from God to use her experiences and gifts to help others. Stephanie is also the author of and two books that can be found on that site. Stephanie strives to share her love, faith, and talents in an inclusive manner to help others who know spiritual pain and who know the bitter taste of the dregs of despair.
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