Write for your readers

Jul 15, 2020

What's the point of writing if nobody's going to read it?

In these days of time-pressured information overload, your writing must be easy to read, look easy to read — and be as short as possible.

"Easy reading is damn hard writing," said Maya Angelou, a legend among American writers.

Odds are, however, she didn't say it quite so elegantly or succinctly the first time she had that thought.

She probably had to reread, rethink and rewrite it. A lot.

Good writing is rewriting. You must reread and rewrite if only to find your mistakes, but please don't stop there.

Only geniuses can write perfect prose in one pass. The rest of us must rewrite if we want to be read.

Be readable

It's not good enough to be easy to read. Your writing must also look easy to read. And it must be as short as possible.

Looking easy to read means short paragraphs and lots of subheads. Bullet points (where appropriate) can also make a document look and feel easier to read.

Even so, being easy to read and looking easy to read still isn't enough. You can't afford to waste words, lest your work gets written off as TLTR (too long to read).

A large part of the task of rewriting is editing. First drafts are invariably too long. The rewrite process must involve cutting out irrelevant information, self-indulgent prose, repetitive statements — and taking yourself out the story. It's not about you (except when it is).

Furthermore, you must find your lead sentence; it might be buried somewhere in what you wrote. Your first sentence or paragraph is critical, because that's the decision point for many readers as to whether they read the rest of the story.


The Penn Valley Ladies Garden Club is holding its annual Kids in the Garden Day this Saturday … (yawn)


Plant your kids in the dirt and watch them grow.

Which of these makes you want to read the rest of the story?

Likewise, how does your story end? Are you coming to a conclusion that you set up in the beginning? Is it a call to action? Does it pay off so the readers are glad they read the whole story?

And what about the middle of the story? Does it have a logical progression? Does each paragraph lead to the next? If it doesn't, that might indicate you need to insert a new subhead for a new idea.

Make a checklist or outline to make sure you've said everything that needs to be said.

One editing attitude to adopt is to cut out all the good stuff so all you have left is the great stuff.

Rewriting with the aim of cutting the length of an article almost invariably improves it.

A one-pass wonder may be easier to write, but it's useless if nobody reads it or likes it.

Why do it?

Easy reading is definitely hard writing — but it's worth it. People will write you or come up to you and tell you how much they enjoyed your story.

They'll say things like, "I read it all the way to end" or "You really made me think " or "I'm going to do what you suggested (donate, join, protest or otherwise respond to whatever your article was about)" or "I shared it with friends." There's no better feeling for a writer.

So, do you want your writing to end up in the bottom of somebody's bird cage or deleted? Or would you prefer to be bookmarked, shared, talked about and paid?

This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send us your blog post.

Tom Durkin

Trained as a screenwriter, Tom Durkin has spent most of his writing career in creative nonfiction: journalism, legal analysis, press relations, marketing, technical writing, op-eds, and documentaries.