Writing Productivity Tip #6: Revise for the Reader’s Productivity
The previous posts in this series have been about finding ways write more fluidly and easily. The revision process is your chance to extend this same courtesy to the reader. Put in the effort to make the experience of reading as fluid as possible.
It’s a matter of scalability. There’s one writer – you. Ideally, your writing will reach a broad audience of countless people. Spend time streamlining the reading process so your readers won’t struggle to get your message.
Bonus: The easier it is to read, the more likely people are to read and share your piece.
If you were in a state of flow while writing the first draft, it now includes artifacts of your thought processes.
Revising bridges the gap between your thoughts and your readers’ understanding.
As Ann Handley says in Everybody Writes:
Good writing anticipates the questions that readers might have as they’re reading a piece, and it answers them.”
The Fallacy of Sounding Smart
In some cultures, complex sentences are the hallmark of a well-educated writer, showcasing a mind capable of navigating complexity.
Academicians often pride themselves on their ability to construct long sentences, wielding dependent clauses like samurai swords. There’s an important difference between academia and the rest of the world: students have no choice but to read assignments (or pretend they have.) In the real world, people put down non-required reading and move on.
If you attempt to sound smart, readers might struggle to piece together your meaning. They’ll either feel stupid or abandon the effort. Neither outcome is good for your writing career.
Empathize With the Reader
When revising, take your reader’s perspective.
Are they reading online? People don’t read carefully from a screen. Long sentences don’t work well. Online readers have more distractions, like emails and Facebook, competing for their attention. Don’t get in the way of comprehension.
Are your readers in a hurry? (And who isn’t?) Add subheads, call-outs, or other navigation to help people find what they need quickly. A few readers may linger over every well-chosen word. Many will skim.
Do sentences require extra mental energy to process? When you read what you have written, will readers have to stop and re-parse the sentence to make sense of it? If so, find a way to rephrase it.
Being grammatically correct has little value if the reader gives up.
Tip: To find problematic sentences, read the piece out loud. Any place you have to add vocal emphasis or inflection to communicate the meaning, your reader might go astray. Fix the sentence to eliminate these cognitive detours.
Revision is an act of empathy for your reader. Be generous with your time and effort.
Image by Victor Hanacek on PicJumbo