Saturday, February 13, 2010

Being a reader-focused writer

As part of my varied professional life, I teach writing improvement classes to graduate students in business and management. All of our work starts from one premise: that the reader is more important than the writer. The assumption is that written business materials, whether they be for marketing or production or design, all have one thing in common: they want to communicate information to the reader.

This may seem self-evident but in my teaching and coaching, I’ve discovered that many writers are only concerned with what they think of the piece they’re working on; they’re only concerned with whether they like it and whether they understand it, not with how it will be received. So we talk about “reader-focused writing,” from word choices to clear and varied sentence structure to thinking about punctuation as a signal of upcoming meaning).

Creative writers interested in placing or selling their work tend to have more of a focus on writing for readers. They want to be entertaining, informative, inspiring enough that an editor or agent or publisher will take their work and send it out to audiences. But they often don’t think beyond that initial reader.

Most native speakers of a language have an excellent internal grammar, allowing them to generate grammatically correct sentences one after the other. They have little need for a deep understanding of the structure of the language. That is, until they become writers and want to reach their readers.

Having a good knowledge of grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure can go a long way into turning okay writers into good ones.

Looking for a place to start? I recommend The Least You Should Know about English (in any of its various workbook versions) by Wilson and Glazier, On Writing Well by William Zinsser, and Style by Joseph M. Williams.

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