By Kath Walters
While some of us are inclined to waffle when we write, others are inclined to jam.
Interestingly, ‘jamming’ is more common. Writers are good souls for the most part and are keen to serve their readers by providing lots of information. That is what I mean by jamming – I mean crowding our blogs, reports or emails with lots of data, ideas, actions and insights.
As readers, however, we are overwhelmed with information. Ironically, we are looking for more – we remain hungry for improvement, and for help with our daily tasks and hopes. But we want just the right information delivered in just the right way.
Readers understand the value of great writing is its power to shine a light on a barrier or explore a point that we have overlooked, clarify why it matters and provide some signposts to help us redirect our efforts.
Stories are a great way to do this. It’s what reporters do all the time. Reporters go wherever there are significant events and simply describe what has happened, who was involved, and why it matters for us to know about it. They note when it occurred (always today or yesterday if it’s in the news), where and how it happened.
We know this, of course: who, what, why, when, where and how are the elements of all great stories, especially in the news. The best reporters don’t tell us what to do or think or feel as a result of reading their story; they guide us.
Unleash the inner reporter
What can we learn from this approach to writing? We learn to unfold everything about a single idea or event. It’s helpful to adopt a reporter’s approach to unfolding our ideas, using the five Ws and one H as a guiding principal.
I remember submitting one of my first pieces of writing to a lecturer, and it coming back with the comment: “All these ‘it’s!” I had been using the word ‘it’ everywhere, assuming the reader understood what I was referring to.
I see the same mistake in much of what I read: too many assumptions. There is a delicate balance, of course; we don’t want to insult the intelligence of our audience by explaining the obvious.
However, I have found that explaining too much is less of a problem. If I explain a term that the reader understands, they simply skim past it (giving themselves a little ‘high five’ for being in the know.) Those who don’t understand appreciate the fact that I have taken the time to include them.
Also, if you are seeking to position yourself as a leading thinker in any field, it’s likely that you have taken a different view to the mainstream. You will need to explain what most people think, and how your thinking on the topic is different.
Learning to slowly unfold your ideas makes them more relevant to your readers. You cannot please everyone, but those who you do please will be very pleased indeed.