đź“–Writing to be understood: what works and why

Janzer, Anne
  • p.3

    A piece of writing succeeds or fails not on the page but in a reader’s head. To increase the impact of your nonfiction writing, focus beyond the words an topic, on the minds of the readers.

  • Limiting your audience can help you reach more people. Delighted target audience will share. Others might like the style too. (Think Purple Cow)

  • make ideas memorable (e.g., emotional)

  • The Knowledge Illusion by Steven Sloman

    We tolerate complexity by failing to understand it. That’s the illusion of understanding.

  • p.50

    When we attempt to explain a concept, we run into the limits of our understanding. That’s why teaching or writing about a topic makes us smarter about it.

  • Use google auto-complete feature to find interesting questions and beliefs your audience has.

  • First describe skeleton of the topic (for readers who don’t need much details), then dive into depth for those who want to know more (the first group will skip that part thinking they understand enough).

  • Move citations and evidences to endnotes.

  • Describe the range of available opinions first before fixing misinformation. “then you can get into the topic without the reader feeling ignored or marginalized”

  • values buds (https://yourmorals.org for survey):

    • care / harm

    • fairness / cheating

    • loyalty / betrayal

    • authority / subversion

    • sanctity / degradation

    • liberty / oppression

  • changing beliefs

    • what does NOT work

      • data, data, data

        • “if you give people facts without a story, they will explain it within their existing belief system”

      • lecturing

        • acknowledge other views

        • don’t preach but help reader to see another point of view

      • insisting on being right

    • what works

      • survey your own beliefs and emotions

      • re-frame the values

        • appeal to different value buds

    • don’t expect complete success

  • focus on the positive

  • curiosity

    • I-type---innate desire to learn

    • D-type---closing the gaps in understanding

    • for I-type: offer the promise of fresh information that the readers will enjoy acquiring (lead with the benefit)

    • for D-type: induce a knowledge gap: expose contradictions, paradoxes, or puzzles, or pose intriguing question

      • don’t make the gap too wide

  • p.82

    We are not particularly interested in subjects about which we know almost everything or practically nothing. We tend to be interested when we know quite a bit but feel that there is more to be learned.

  • alternate between abstractions and details (specific examples)

  • Terms:

    • define the term the first time it appears

    • use the term in a context that reinforces the meaning the first few times

    • occasionally sprinkle in specific examples to remind the reader

  • analogies:

    • one-time

    • foundational

  • use analogy that is simple and familiar to the reader

  • Metamia—online database of analogies

  • Note that reader can have completely different experience with subject of analogy. Beware of negative emotional reactions.

  • Use stories.

  • stories can be simple: frame a moment, a scene, or a transformation

  • repetition: rephrase, use quotes from other people, stories, headings, sidebars

  • p.141 Rule of Three (Alan Alda)

    • Make no more than three points when speaking

    • Find three different ways to explain a difficult idea

    • Repeat an important point three times

  • Repeat with value (don’t simply revisit)

  • avoid using jargon

  • voice/tone/style

    • voice: unedited text, how you write

    • tone: how reader interprets

    • style: techniques you use to convey tone

  • Simile requires explanation, metaphor does not.

  • Credibility: this does not work:

    • reviewing own credentials

    • retracing own steps

    • claiming on “insider status”

  • To be taken seriously, you don’t have to sound seriously

  • The pratfall effect: showing vulnerability make you more likable.

  • p.184 “To connect more deeply with individual readers, give them a glimpse of yourself as a real person.”