Writing to be read

Does anyone have to read what you write?

In some circumstances, yes. If you’re doing an exam, it’s fair to assume someone is going to read your sweated words. If the marker doesn’t like the first couple of paragraphs, tough for them. They have to plough on. So do teachers reading student essays. There are other kinds of written statements that are pretty much sure to be read by someone—because it’s their job. Someone in an insurance company will read your claim form. Someone in the justice system will read your witness statement.

But don’t exaggerate the number of these “must reads”. They are few and only in particular circumstances. Always bear in mind one of the fundamental truths:

No one has to read what you write.

If that wasn’t bad enough, your potential readers are very likely deluged with material that they want to read, feel they should read, or are being told by others that they must read.

Don’t despair. Just accept that writing is a competitive business, and you have to work hard to gain and keep your readers’ attention. Then think through what it means for your writing and its structure. The usual lessons are

1. Get to the point, fast. There’s no time for extended introductions or broad reflections.

2. Make your piece interesting, rewarding and fun to read. If that’s not possible, at least remove all obstacles that might stop someone reading or cause their attention to wander.

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