My Writers Circle

Writing => All the Write Questions => Topic started by: Gyppo on July 07, 2007, 07:28:58 PM

Title: YOUR TARGET READER: Gyppo in 'tutor' mode. May be helpful.
Post by: Gyppo on July 07, 2007, 07:28:58 PM
Here's the second thing I found on the old floppies.



   How can you write a readable article?  One to make readers and editors ask for more?

   Writers have a problem which tutors don't face.  In class I can demonstrate, with much waving of arms and jumping around if necessary.  On paper I have only the words to do the business.  And words, as we all know, can easily be misunderstood.

   Here's one secret, which successful (selling) writers and teachers have been using for years to avoid misunderstandings.

   Keep it simple.  Write as if it was a letter to a friend.  If you've no friend interested in the subject create an imaginary audience of one.  But make it a tough one.  Not someone who just nods when you say 'you know what I mean'.

   My shooting articles of a few years ago were written as if leaning on a fence, 'shooting the breeze'.

   Obviously a real conversation isn't as one sided as an article, but visualising a target listener/reader helps you respond to the kind of questions they would ask.  And this is the whole purpose of any instructive article.  You should be responding, not lecturing.

   I sometimes get my students to write 'How to' articles in question and answer format.  Providing their own questions and answers.  When finished they cross out the questions and see if the answers - read alone - still make sense.

   The usual result?  Not complete sense, but a solid base of direct and uncluttered information which can be tidied and rearranged to form an article.

          Rearranged?  Almost invariably, because first drafts hardly ever start at what becomes the printed beginning.  Opening lines are often grafted on afterwards to grab attention, and unexpected links will sometimes form when you read it through.

   That first reading also reveals any unnecessary repetitions, and the vital bits you've left out.

   This method works.  Sometimes better than other times, but it works.  With practice you can leave out the written questions as you go along.  But, when tackling any new subject, it can still be worth writing the questions, to get them straight in your own mind.  Know your enemy before tackling them.

   Target Reader

   The clearer your visualisation the easier it is to pitch content at the right level.  Appearing condescending will really turn readers off.  Alternatively, you may assume too much existing knowledge, leaving out some basic information without which everything else means nothing.

   It often helps to visualise someone just a few years younger than yourself.  Similar background, but a few years behind in knowledge.  You can't treat this person as an idiot, and you know them well.  Because that was you, before you learned what you know now.

   I still recall being terrified that I'd hit the wrong keys and wipe everything.  So, when I'm teaching others, this is the first thing I reassure them about.
   It's not easy stepping back those few years.  Once a thing has become instinctive you tend to assume everyone knows what you know.

   But think!  If that was true you wouldn't need to write the article, would you?

   Writing for this magazine (PCW Plus) I can assume the average reader understands the basics of Locoscript.  Or can I?  The periodic appearance of articles aimed at total beginners proves you have to cater for all needs.

   But this is best done by specialised articles, rather than trying to be all things to all people.  This also allows you to sell more articles, which is what professional writing is about.

   So, keep the reader fixed in your mind.  Would they understand?  If you ever hear your own voice saying, defensively, 'You know what I mean', stop and think again.  They probably don't.

   'You know what I mean', is equivalent to a mechanic saying 'It should be alright.'  It's a cop-out.

   A target reader keeps your style accessible to someone at that level.  Vitally important, because information at the wrong level is a waste of time for both reader and writer.

   Tuition Direct!

   Your approach will also be direct.  The best teaching is One-to-One, wherever possible.  The most ineffective  is when you try to please everyone.  I know that sometimes my style - in life as well as writing - alienates a small percentage.  But I accept that in return for getting through to most people.

   Another benefit is clarity of thought.  It is all too easy to get carried away with your own brilliance, especially when the words are flowing freely and beautifully and your fingers are dancing skilfully over the keyboard.

   With your target reader in mind you will be thinking as you would talk, rather than as you have been taught to write.  At school the ghost of Shakespeare looms threateningly at our shoulder like a stern editor.  At University turgid and circumlocutory phrasing may be misconstrued as a sign of literary brilliance.  (Bull**** baffles brains.)

   Forget both of these when you are instructing.  Keep it clear and unambiguous.  Use straightforward basic English.  If flowery phrases and jargon are your everyday language, fine.  Just remember you are restricting your market to a small group of your peers.

   Another benefit?  It's easier to write, unless your natural gift of expression was totally enchained by a brutally formal education.

   Believe me, this approach to writing works.  If it didn't, you wouldn't be reading this.

Title: Re: YOUR TARGET READER: Gyppo in 'tutor' mode. May be helpful.
Post by: Lin on July 08, 2007, 08:25:56 AM
Hi Gyppo,

I agree with you 100% here.  Ive just completed an article and whilst writing it I had the reader in mind all the way through.   I am not writing the article for me, but its for everyone of all ages, so you really do have to think in that way.  KISS is probably the best advice you can give. Keeping it simple but at the same time interesting is going to be hard for some people.

I usually write how I speak (as you all have probably gathered!!LOL) then I tidy it up into simple English. Next task is to sort out the grammar and spelling, the following draft I rearrange paragraphs to work in logical order, then I tidy up the passive words, improve the whole context of the subject matter and  improve on the simple words to make them sound more eloquent and interesting. I then check my facts - very important if you dont wish the public to point the finger at you - or the editor of the magazine.  I then do another grammar and spell check (maybe several before the final draft)

The final draft is then presented to a friend in the writing business who provides me with a overall view to see if she thinks it will work.   I am finding now that my own judgement is coming to the fore on that area.  Its a gut feeling that the draft is now completed and working well.  Maybe I can soon trust myself to work without reviews, but Im not there yet.

Great piece of advice Gyppo and thanks so much for your tuition!!

All the best

Title: Re: YOUR TARGET READER: Gyppo in 'tutor' mode. May be helpful.
Post by: Hmmm on July 09, 2007, 08:52:10 AM
This is absolutely brilliant.

I have printed this out.

Request for more Gyppo in tutor mode posts! Please!  :)
Title: Re: YOUR TARGET READER: Gyppo in 'tutor' mode. May be helpful.
Post by: Gyppo on July 09, 2007, 10:14:56 AM

Thanks, it's always good to be appreciated.  In some ways it is an over-simplification, but the discipline of fitting it into a single magazine page each month really encouraged me to stick to the essentials.

It won't happen that often because a lot of them are on discs of a different format and size (CPM/3").  The plan is to eventually get them all converted to suit windows, but there's other things to do as well.  But I'll try and get a few more out in the fairly near future.

If I can get my old PCW (Amstrad) to fire up I can do a conversion on there which makes them readable - not tidy, but readable - on my PC.  Sometimes the old machine plays quite nicely, and other days it sulks.  But as long as the elastic band (drive belt) hasn't perished or gone brittle there's still some life in the thing.  I can then get the files onto a 3.5" floppy instead of Amstrad's chunky old old 3" discs and tidy them up into a PC readable plain text format.

It will happen, but current projects take precedence.  Plus the 'bugger factor' of  dragging old machinery from cupboards and loft space to set them up. 

Given a clear week I could do the lot and save a couple of half-finished novels too  But given a clear week I'm more likely to do something else.  Cest la vie, or something like that.

Title: Re: YOUR TARGET READER: Gyppo in 'tutor' mode. May be helpful.
Post by: Hmmm on July 09, 2007, 01:26:02 PM
Thanks, Gyppo.

It will be appreciated whenever you can post your tutor mode posts. I understand that other things will obviously be of more importance to you.

Oh yes, the old machines. I also had an Amstrad, but nothing like your one. Mine was a neat little 8086 with 512kB memory, 3.5" floppy disk and 5MB hard disk, with a 12" monochrome monitor. Also I had a dot matrix printer. Anyone remember those?! Seems like such a long time ago. But it was only 1994, when those gee-wow $5000+ 486 PCs were out. Couldn't afford one of those, couldn't get credit... had to save and buy a computer costing a couple of hundred dollars.

I will wait for your posts in tutor mode, whenever you can do them. :)

-- Praetorian