I’m currently reading GUT:The Inside Story Of Our Body’s Most Under-rated Organ by Giulia Enders (and very interesting it is too). But it made me wonder: how far should writers go in order to ensure their message is understood?
I’ve blogged before about the benefits of reading your work aloud. It can be a useful step in the armoury of proofreading: checking for missing words, repetitions and other typing mistakes. But reading aloud like this often takes place in your own writing space, alone, so you can listen to the words you’ve written. Getting your text right goes a long way to conveying a clear message. But do you listen to the message? Enders knew for her subject matter she needed help.
At the end of her introduction she says:
“My sister has given me the support I needed to keep me on the right track – listening to me read aloud from my manuscript and saying, with a charming grin, ‘I think you’d better try that bit again’”
It’s certainly something to consider, if you’re trying to explain a complex subject in a simple way, especially if your trying to educate a readership in a complicated subject matter of which they have no background knowledge.
Enders bent her sister’s ear, and it worked. Despite the technicalities of the subject matter, Enders has a fantastic way of explaining things simply (and I should know, because I’m thick and I’m thoroughly enjoying her book).
If you think this may help you (the technique, not the book), it’s worth considering carefully who to ask to listen to your work. Ideally, you need an audience (I say audience, it only needs to be an audience of one) who represents your target readers’ knowledge of the subject. If you’re uncomfortably asking family members, approach friends instead. This is where a writers’ group can be useful. Not only are they used to listening to other writers’ work, but they may also help you with practical suggestions on how to clarify your idea.
If you’re going to read out your work to others, then a little preparation is recommended. First, read it out aloud to yourself, alone. Do that initial editing – for missing words, and repetitions. Make sure you’re comfortable with reading it out, rather than stumbling over every other word. Being able to deliver the text with confidence will help listeners.
We writers tend not to like being the centre of attention, but stand up in front of your audience if you can. It helps with breathing, which makes speaking easier. Lift your head up. Don’t talk down at your notes. Instead, talk to your audience.
Don’t bombard them with too much information. Refrain from reading out all 10,000 words of the chapter you’ve completed. Just read out the section that deals with one idea.
Then ask your audience to explain your idea back to you, to see if they fully understand it. Someone might just say something that enables you to add the clarity that enables everyone to see.
It’s just an idea … but one that seems to have worked well for Enders. Just read some of her reviews on Amazon. Her readers are glad that she did. As am I.