Writing is a creative process, which means it’s very personal.
When we write we may feel that it’s a reflection of how well we articulate ideas, how good we are at spelling and grammar, and our knowledge and intelligence.
But we shouldn’t think about ourselves when we are writing in plain language, especially when we are providing important information. We need to think about who will read the text, and use empathy to understand what they need.
Putting aside our own needs
At school, and possibly later in the workplace, many of us got into the habit of writing long, wordy sentences. We would use all the big words and jargon that we knew. It would show the teacher or our colleagues that we were intelligent and knew what we were talking about.
It didn’t matter if the sentences were hard to follow and it wasn’t clear what we were trying to say (in fact, if we hadn’t thought through our ideas well, maybe that was our intention!).
I’ve written articles on the technical side of writing in plain language. It’s already clear that we need to focus on the audience and think about their needs. And at the same time, we need to make sure that all the information that needs to be included is.
But there’s more to it than that.
We have to remember that the writing is not about us – our ego, our position, our job, our status. We need to put aside our own thoughts and needs. It's all about the reader.
It's hard to put aside our own needs. There’s still that temptation to write for ourselves. What will I get out of it? How can I show my skills? What will the reader think of what and how I write.
How do we do this?
Writing for understanding with empathy
Before we start writing, we must consciously be empathetic to the reader. Empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another” (Oxford Dictionaries).
Instead of asking questions like “What does the reader need to know?”, we should go beyond this and use empathy to ask:
“If I were in their place
Sometimes we won’t know the answers to these questions straight away. We will need to use empathy to learn about the readers, and their needs or problems. This may mean research, such as talking with representatives of the readers.
If we write with empathy, we will have a better chance of making sure our readers will fully understand what they need to know, and can easily and quickly take the action they need to.
If you are writing a document or book in plain language and this all sounds too overwhelming, I can help.
I am a copy-editor and proofreader based in New Zealand. My business, Clearlingo Editing and Proofreading, caters to all writers business documents and non-fiction books. I can discuss with you where your writing is at and what you need to do next.
For more information on how I can help you make your writing shine, please contact me.
I would love to hear from you.
Hi, I'm Marja!
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