Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Engage your reader -- Part 2.

Step 2 in the process of engaging your reader is to organize your writing to meet your reader's needs.

People read to get answers. Anticipate the questions your readers bring to the work, and organize your material to respond to those questions. Also think through the questions your readers are likely to ask while reading, and further organize your material to answer each question immediately.

When appropriate, consider using a question-and-answer format in which you write the section headings as questions. This format assumes the reader is the one asking the questions, so write them in the first person (using "I").

Unless a section is brief, summarize it at the top or state the bottom line at the top. Then your reader sees what the section is about and knows what you're getting at. Writers often do the opposite, saving the conclusion or summary for the end.

Teachers, for example, have learned that the way to teach people is to:
  1. Tell them what you're going to tell them.
  2. Tell them it.
  3. Tell them what you just told them.

For your reader, this approach makes the difference between wandering and going somewhere. If she doesn't know where your argument is headed, following your explanation is much harder. That's because, at many points, she won't know what to make of something you say. Similarly, if she has no idea what your main points will be, she must work to organize the information you give, and she is much less likely to grasp those main points.

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