Vivienne Begg, Information Management Specialist @ TP3
“It’s not all about you!” is a phrase I’ve been known to shriek in annoyance at my teenage sons – but it’s also something I say, frequently, to participants on our TP3 workshops.
Effective writing is not all about you – the writer – crafting beautiful sentences in order to share your knowledge and experience (although that’s something that’s easy to get caught up in). In fact, it’s not all about us, as writers, at all.
It’s about our readers.
In my view, the most effective writers are the ones who are best able to put themselves in their readers’ shoes and anticipate what information their readers need, what language to use, how much detail, in what order, and so on.
And that’s often difficult. Paradoxically, it’s particularly difficult when you are writing about a subject you have considerable experience or expertise in. Experimental psychologist, cognitive scientist, linguist and writer Steven Pinker, in his recent article The Source of Bad Writing, refers to the curse of knowledge which he defines as “a difficulty in imagining what it is like for someone else not to know something that you know.”
And of course, it is difficult to put yourself in the shoes of a beginner, especially if it’s been a long time since you yourself were in that situation. Which is where Structured Writing’s task by task approach to developing documentation comes in.
With structured writing, what you pen is driven by your audience’s needs and the purpose of the information.
After all, if you’re not clear who your audience is and what they need, you can write those beautifully crafted sentences but still not achieve the outcomes you’re after.
Once you’ve done your audience analysis and clarified your purpose, you use that to identify what content to include. And by using structured writing’s information types you can then identify what it is your readers need to know – as opposed to just telling them everything you know on the subject.
Next, think about how your readers will use the information. The answer to this will allow you to identify structuring and sequencing strategies that will be logical for them.
And, finally, present the information using structured writing’s presentation modes and guidelines, and with language your reader will understand.
As Stephen Pinker writes: “Always try to lift yourself out of your parochial mind-set and find out how other people think and feel. It may not make you a better person in all spheres of life, but it will be a source of continuing kindness to your readers.”
To learn how to produce business documents that hit the mark - enrol in our Structured Writing course.