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The reader (and me)

October 5, 2011

A previous comment on one of the Freshword blogs (on punctuation and bullets) suggested that some things are not critical since ‘…it all washes over the reader’. I was struck by this comment because of how important this is.

Readers as experts

We might not be great writers, but we are great readers. That is, we notice everything – every last missing full stop, every misplaced comma, every repeated word, every failure to completely make sense; we notice everything. And we are not tolerant and easy-going as readers. We are demanding, impatient and highly reactive. We might indulge the first typo, flinch at the second, be indignant at the third and frustrated by the fourth; our mistakes steadily devalue the credibility and authority of the writer.  This means that as writers, our presentation, word choices, and punctuation have to be spot on in order for our readers ‘not to notice’ our writing. That is why we agonise over correct usage and convention.

Control them – or they’ll control you

To communicate effectively (that is, the reader understands what we want to say, first time) we cannot put a step wrong. If we do that we give up the one thing that makes us effective as writers – control. The reader can find lots of excuses for not reading; it is not the writer’s job to provide them. By wielding words well we control and manipulate the reader, making the reading experience as easy and trouble-free as possible. If your writing starts to wash over readers, then you have lost them and failed as a writer. It’s as simple as that.

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