You have a technical blog but there is only one problem: no one is reading what you write.
Think about it: readers aren’t going through their day waiting for your tech tutorials. They’re busy dealing with whatever is going on in their day, just like you! They are thinking of how they are going finish their work before Friday, how they are going to fix the bug in production… you get the picture. They have a million things to solve, and thinking about reading your latest post might not be on their priority list.
In real life, readers are more interested in solving their problems, or being entertained.
Writing effectively is needed to get your reader’s attention. Let’s learn how!
(This post is a summary of the video of the class “The Craft of Writing Effectively" by Larry McEnerney, from the University of Chicago’s Writing Program).
Why it’s hard to write effectively
What do you do when you find a text hard to understand or not relevant to you?
First, you slow down. You re-read sentences or entire paragraphs. You get confused and frustrated. If you need to continue reading the text because you need the information, you keep reading. Otherwise, you give up.
That’s probably what is happening in the reader’s mind when they land in your blog.
“The Craft of Writing Effectively” is targeted at academic experts who can’t get their papers accepted, but these lessons can be applied to anyone who writes for an audience.
Professor Larry says that we write for two main reasons:
- to help us think. Especially when we work with complex things, writing helps with our thinking.
- to change the way readers see the world.
When you write for someone else to read, you have to stop thinking about rules and start thinking about readers. Your writing is not to communicate anything about you; it’s to change the way your readers think.
According to Larry, schools and universities train us to write essays. The problem is that these essays are evaluated under rule-governed training. For example, a text needs to be clear, concise, persuasive, etc.
However, rules don’t matter if the context is irrelevant. Content can be clear, new, original… and still be useless!
In school, we write to show that we know what we’re talking about. That we have the required knowledge for passing the assignments.
Why did teachers read your papers? Have you ever asked yourself this question?
Because institutions paid them to care about us. It was their job. This stopped the moment we left school. We all have learned to write in a system where we are writing to readers that are paid to care about us.
Have you ever stopped reading something just because it had typos or because the style was not “conventionally or grammatically correct?”
No! You read it because it’s relevant to you.
At this point, Larry says “you have been trained for years to write garbage”! That’s our favorite quote from this class.
How to write effectively
Professor Larry recommends the following strategies:
Start with a problem your readers have that you can help solve. What makes the problem important? Why should they care? Does that cost them anything?
The introduction is a quick version of why they are wrong, according to you. When you have proven them that your work is valuable, they will read your post.
Defining or explaining things is not necessary. You are writing to people who already know the topic. Skip explaining things. Avoid background and introductory sections.
Every community has its code. Learn their code and rules. A code is a set of words that communicates value to a group. Create a jargon list that your audience follows, and use it in your writing. Without using their own words, you are unlikely to create value or to be persuasive.
By definition, anything you write has the function to help your readers understand better something that they want to understand well.
The Craft of Writing Effectively’s Highlights
- Writing serves two main purposes. 1: to help you think; 2: to change your reader’s mind. For the second purpose, writing is not about the writer, it’s all about the reader. What’s in it for them?
- Know your readers. What problems do they have that you can help solve? Remember, no one cares about the insides of your head unless you pay them to.
- Study your readers. Learn their code and create a words list to use in your writing. What do they read? What do they share? The answers are in front of you, so pay close attention.
Next time you’re reading something, try noticing why you continue reading it or why you stop. Pay attention to how the author writes and how they bring new ideas to you. Do you notice the words they use? How did they start the content?
Even when you’re working as a developer, the strategies shared here are helpful. For example, when you are working on a new project, see how other team members talk, ask for reviews, and discuss issues.
It’s so much easier to write when you are helping someone. Writing effectively is not natural but can be mastered.
Did you enjoy this post? Share it with someone who wants to learn how to write effectively.
Now, let’s write useful stuff ✍️!
Did you like this article? You're gonna love these other ones: