9 + 1 Things Every Reader Wants from a Writer

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It can seem complicated to write for a readership that includes beginners to experts. I’ve done it for over two decades. It can seem like there’s too much to consider to meet them all at their own level.

My experience is that beginners and experts are not that different when they read. They might choose to read different things, but we all do. Beyond that difference of content, beginners, experts, and those of us in the middle — all readers — want the same things from a writer.

9 +1 Things Every Reader Wants

Basically there are 9 things every reader wants, plus one for blog readers. Let’s imagine I’m one of those readers. Actually I am one. I’ll tell you the things readers want as they’ve been telling me for over 20 years.

  1. Pick an idea that intrigues you. If it intrigues you, I’m likely to be intrigued by it too. At the very least, I’ll be curious about what it was about the idea that captured your interest and intrigued you.

  2. Trace out a simple structure. Use the structure to cut a path through your idea. Then it’s easy for me to follow you.

  3. Write for someone who’s like you, but doesn’t know what you know about the topic. Trying to write for everyone is like trying to talk penguins and parachutes at the same time.

  4. Make clear decisions about what to include. Look things over and be lethal about taking out what doesn’t need to be there. Believe me, I’ll remember that you don’t waste words when I decide I want to return.

  5. Tell me. even if you think it’s obvious. It’s only obvious, if you know it. I need to face the stove before I start cooking. If you don’t tell me, how can you be sure I know?

  6. Set aside your expensive vocabulary. Don’t use big words, when perfectly good little words communicate easily. I don’t read with an online dictionary, and I don’t want to.

  7. Don’t talk down or up to me. Let’s agree on an equal intellectual playing field. I’m smart, but that doesn’t mean I know anything about this topic. I read lots of folks who know more. The ones I read let me keep my self-respect too.

  8. Don’t flinch and offer apologies around me. I start wondering. Is something wrong with your work or with how you see me? I want to like what you do. I want you to like me too. I want to start and finish thinking of you as a effective writer in control. Let me keep that image.

  9. At the end, review what you said, but do be sensitive to when you’re venting and when the horse is already dead.

  10. PLUS ONE FOR BLOGGING: Don’t make me invisible or embarrass me. Answer my comments and questions in your comment field. Don’t answer other people and ignore me. When you do answer, please, please, please, remember you had to learn once too.

All readers want a writer who can provide an experience that is entertaining, enlightening, worth the time they spend reading what the writer has written. Readers want a writer who understands that they don’t have to read any old thing that is put before them.

Readers know they can’t be an expert at everything. That’s the reason they are reading what we’re writing. They come to get news and new information. They come ready to like us and to learn things.

All we have to do is talk to our readers, give them what we promise in a way that shows that we want them to come back. Listening to our readers is branding; it’s promotion; it’s community building. It’s writing that speaks to readers.

Now it’s my turn to listen. What points did I miss when I made this list? I’m sure I must have missed something.

–ME “Liz” Strauss
If you’d like Liz to help with your writing, see the Work with Liz!! page for details.

Related articles
Just added 9 + 1 — The Sequel — When Big Words Go Bad
Writing for Readers — What’s My Promise as the Writer?
Always Choose for Your Readers, Right?
See the Customer Think and Writing Power for Everyone series on the SUCCESSFUL SERIES PAGE.

Comments

  1. says

    Great points, Liz. I think the reader also wants to get to know the person behind the blog. I always find that’s a difficult balancing act between how much you reveal and how much you value your privacy.

  2. says

    Hi Hock!
    I agree with you about that. I think each writer has to find his or her own place of comfort. Where I find my line is around the words “what kind of person I am.” I think that such information is okay to share. I avoid detailed information about my friends or my family without their explicit permission. Usually I even change their names.

  3. says

    Nice list, Liz. I wish I had something like this when I first started writing. In a lot of ways I’ve learned more about writing from blogging than I did when I just did ‘regular’ writing.

    I think one of the big differences between blogging and’regular writing is that the reader knows there is a face behind the writing. Even though she didn’t blog, I think this is one of the reasons for the success of Erma Bombeck. When you read her work, you feel like you are listening to a real person.

    When the blogger responds to your comments, it increases the sense of dealing with a real person. Thanks, Liz.

  4. says

    Hi Rick,
    Welcome! Thanks for telling me about your experience. Sounds like you’ve been blogging for a while now.

    I change my voice a little when I write online, but not as much as you might think. That might be the secret of good writing — a voice that readers can really hear. :)

    I really appreciate your comments, Rick.
    Thanks I hope you come by again. You’re not a stranger, you know. You’re a friend now.

  5. says

    Thanks a lot for your excellent article. I am sure that all of us will find this very useful. I am a new blogger and I have been blogging professionally for just 3 months now. Before that I have nearly one decade of freelance journalism. I have written for newspapers, magazines, radio and television in Bangladesh (one of the small countries in South Asia). I write about South Asian business in my two blogs under Know More Media Network.

    As a writer, I feel that blogging has some elements of daily newspaper, weekly or monthly magazine, radio and television. Sometimes, I try to break a news item like a TV channel but since the reader cannot see the video image, I have to explain like a radio report. Like daily newspaper, I try to make the headline a bit catchy and sometimes, I try to provide detailed analysis like a magazine article. Thus I enjoy writing in my blogs. Sometimes, I get appreciated by my readers and occasionally I get very happy when I receive a thoughtful email from any reader about my blog. On the other hand, sometimes, readers criticize me. I do not enjoy it but I try to think about my writing and try to find out if I should change my style and sometimes I feel that the criticism is justified and I try not to repeat the mistake. This is beauty of blogging- you get instant honest praise or criticism.

    I read a lot of blogs and everyday I put comment on 15-20 blogs. At first, my goal was merely to attract some visitors by it. So, I tried to write comment in a way that might get me some visitors. However, now I get some visitors thanks to Google and now, if I write 15 comments, just 1-2 of them are targeted to get me some visitors for my blog. The rest are because I enjoy the blog entries and I wanted to participate in the discussion. As a reader, I wish that blog entries are easy to read and contain some useful information or have some entertainment for me. It does not matter if a blog entry is small or big. What is important to me is that the entry should have something that will make me interested to visit the blog again.

  6. says

    Great stuff Liz,

    For me it’s 4, 5 and 6.

    #4 – that’s the editor coming out in you, eh? I’m one to always overwrite a piece. I usually leave it in draft format and come back to it later and shred it to pieces.

    #5 – That’s a fine balance ain’t it? You don’t want to bore your reader with obvious stuff yet what’s worse is confusing them. I guess it comes down to knowing your audience.

    #6 – see #4 – the editor in me keeps whispering Keep it Simple Stupid!

    With blogging I want to know the writer behind the blog. I want to get used to their voice. With so many blogs on similar issues I tend to choose a blog who voice resonates with me.

  7. says

    Hi Razib,
    Welcome. It’s great to meet another friend from Know More Media. I hope you’ll stop by on Tuesday Night and get to know us even better.

    With your background, you have the experience to understand how diverse any population of readers really is. There is no group of average readers that all behave the same way. We used to say in one publishing company where I worked, “Oh woe, if only we could get the customers to behave.” The way to do that is to listen to them and to give them something that they want to read.

    You said beautifully, Razib, right here.

    As a reader, I wish that blog entries are easy to read and contain some useful information or have some entertainment for me. It does not matter if a blog entry is small or big. What is important to me is that the entry should have something that will make me interested to visit the blog again.

    That should be a mantra for every writer.
    Thanks for your comment and for you patience while you comment was having a bonding experience with Askiment. :)
    You’re not a stranger anymore. You’re a friend now. Do come back!

  8. says

    Hi Martin,
    You comment resonates with me and feels like high praise coming from a guy with your experience and expertise. Yeah, I threw in a few of my editorial tricks and techniques. They are the ones that new writers discover.

    Ann Michael told me in New York that she had just found the pleasure of editing out the words she didn’t need. We had quite an enjoyable conversation about how much fun it is to take a machete to our writing.

    As far as #6 goes, about a year ago there was an Internet Corporate BS checker, that would allow you to input text and it would find all of the bloviated vocabulary. It was quite a playful little tool — great for showing folks how the word use is quite sufficient and more useful than the word utilize — stuff like that. Then the program would score the document on the percent of words that were considered to be overblown corporate BS.

    I tried to find it for the blog, but I couldn’t remember what it was called.

  9. says

    As usual, you are SO right.

    I’ve have a few customers who also read my website regularly. I’ve developed personal relationships with some of them, and two have said almost exactly the same words to me: “When you write, I feel like you are talking to me – I can almost hear your accent!”.

    Ayup, and that is exactly my intent. I want to be chatty, friendly, and approachable. You (Liz) do that so much better than I, by the way, but at least I’m pointed in the right direction..

  10. says

    How about this… just be honest. Write what you think. They way you think. I can read rhetoric somewhere else. Tell me a story as you see it.

  11. says

    Hi Tony!
    Great to see you again!
    Aw shucks! It’s so nice to know that a real person is sitting on the other side of the screen. That when we comment that we’re part of a real communication. I think you do a find job yourself at letting people hear your charm. I know I’m quite taken by it. :)

  12. says

    Soxiam,
    That’s a fine summary of what I was trying to say. I’m sure that if we met you might through in some details and romance just to keep me listening. :)

  13. says

    Very insightful list, even though one can know all these, putting them into pratice for every blog post you write is another thing. But this post collates alll of those tricky things to remember.

  14. says

    Hi Lydon,
    Welcome!
    Thanks for your comment. Actually I think if you work on them one at a time, each of them starts to be a natural thing. I think of it like getting comfortable in your own writing skin, or finding your “writing feet.” :)

  15. says

    Hi Liz,
    this is my first visit here (via problogger) and i must say you really practise what you preach. Sometimes i get lazy at replying my readers comments. But sometimes the comments leaves me nothing to reply. hehehe..
    wil be back for more..
    Can I link you in my blog?

  16. says

    Hi ah pek!
    Welcome! I’m always happen to meet someone new here have a seat let me show you around. Drinks and beverages are in the sidebar. They’re always there and they’re always free. Help yourself and look around a bit. I’ll be right here.

    I think the key to wanting to reply to readers is thinking about the folks who ignore me when I’m in the middle of a row of comments and thinking about the folks with geeky attitude. That gives me just enough energy to get my fingers typing answer or a hello. Hello and thanks for coming work in every situation. So does, “Gosh I’m glad you’re here.”

    Readers are the ones who make this blog what it is. Readers just like you who talk to me.

    Can you like to my blog? Are you kidding? That would be so very cool!! Please do.

    And when you come back remember this, . . .you’re not a stranger anymore. You’re a friend now.
    I’m Liz.

  17. says

    Liz:

    Great list. This is my first visit here (via ProBlogger.net). I just want to expand upon Point #4 (Make clear decisions about what to include.). What I find in a lot of writing on the web today, especially blogs, is that people write to “optimize” content for money-making purposes. So, instead of fully expanding upon a point, you get the bare basics — and nothing else.

    Especially when speaking from personal experience, I like to know nitty gritty details so that I can take away some real information, not something I can find in 100 similar articles on the web. One of the reasons I think Darren (at ProBlogger.net) is so successful in his blog is that he goes into great detail in his posts. I always feel like I’m receiving a personal lesson from him after reading any of the myriad of issues he discusses on his blog.

    Once again, great post.

    Sincerely,
    Yuwanda

  18. says

    Yuwanda,
    Nice to meet you,
    I agree. Lots of folks write the bare bones kind of post that you’re talking about and fill it full of key words with hardly anything else. If you go to the freelance for hire services, you can find offer after offer for work to build such posts . . . writing for search engines that way makes no sense, because search engines like people too. People are the ones who pay for their ads!

    Darren write a “just right” post. He give the kind of detail that someone who doesn’t know about the subject needs to understand it before he or she is done reading the post. Yet Darren doesn’t keep drilling it and beating it until you feel like you’ve heard it so many times that you don’t very want to hear it again.

    You use the word Lesson. It’s a great choice. That’s what most how-to writing is. A good teacher know how to tell something with just detail to make the learner feel smart and filled with new knowledge. Darren does that really well.

    Thanks for bringing up those insights, Yuwanda.

    Remember when you come back . . . you’re not a stranger anymore. You’re a friend now.
    Liz

  19. says

    What a great list of tips, Liz. Although most of them should be common sense to us, it is so easy to forget them. I’ll be printing up the list in a small, easy to keep nearby format, and keeping in near my writing space as a regular reminder.

    Part of what inspired me to write a travel blog is that all of the other travel writing I was reading dealt with long, frequently exotic and expensive, trips. While romantic and exciting to read (and I do love to read them), it’s not practical travel for most of us.

    I wanted to write about the kind of stuff that real people can do. Real people with budgets, time constraints, and who scan ometimes only get away for an afternoon. I guess that who I am, my voice, and who I want to wite for.

  20. says

    Hi Mary Jo!
    Welcome.
    What a great point you make — that you chose your blog content based who you are and who you want to write for. It sound like such a simple concept, but I wonder how many people don’t do that. That must make it so much easier to speak with confidence. It’s no wonder own voice comes through so well. :)

    As far as putting the little list of tips on the wall. I have to admit that I did that too. All of us need that reminder — even the writer who wrote them. :)

  21. says

    Hi Liz

    Interesting list. But I would guard against such sweeping generalities.

    In point 4: be lethal about editing out extraneous material, you were on point. I’d say however, that you should have applied the rule to your own post. The entire first two paragraphs under ‘Where to start’ are superfluous. You could have started at ‘9+1…’ and the post wouldn’t have lost anything.

    Point 6: Some people DO like to read material with an expensive vocabulary. These are people who themselves have an expensive vocabulary. Some people love to learn new words, and enjoy reading material that makes them run to their dictionary, because they love to learn. Such people feel a kinship with a similar writer.

    The rule should have been, use a vocabulary appropriate for your audience. On my blog for example (www.amusis.com), I don’t spare the vocabulary. The blog is directed at smart people with literary minds, and anybody who has a problem with dictionaries is better off elsewhere.

    Point 9: About being sensitive when venting. Assuredly, it can be mightily irritating to read interminable rants. However, some people rant very engagingly, and this is what their audience finds appealing. The likes of Howard Stern or Rush Limbaugh make a living brutally flogging dead horses. Soemtimes, reading a rant is cathartic. Depending on the eloquence of the ranter, it can be more engaging than antiseptically neutral commentary.

    http://www.amusis.com

  22. says

    El Hakeem,
    Welcome,
    I was smiling by the time I had finished your first sentence. Of course what you write is valid, but the art of doing what you say right is lovely, but rarely achieved.

    I love words as well and know many beautiful expensive ones, but I know that most often when they’re not used with care, they get between the reader and the message. I really don’t want writers trying out or showing off their big words on me. I go a long way to find one who uses big words with fluency. So still the best advice is to avoid them when in doubt. Most readers want that and that IS the piont of view of the article — written after decades of talking to readers.

    On the last, I fear you missed on tiny word “to” I askd to be sensitive to when you’re venting, which means to be aware and know it’s impact, not to avoid doing it. :)

    I love a thoughtful response, El Hakeem, and this certainly was one. I appreciate that you took the time to read my work and to write your thoughts in this little box so clearly and well.

    I hope you’ll join the discussion again and often. You’re no longer a stranger. I look forward to sharing more conversation.

  23. says

    Liz, it was ironic for me to read your #6 when I just posted to my blog about how much I liked Bill Safire’s “On Language” column in the NY Times, and all of his big words! Nevertheless, you are right – when it comes to blog posts, less is certainly more. I think I’ve been learning that as I’ve gone along – it’s not like a teacher’s essay assignment that has to be 500 words. The blogs I like best are written by people who show great passion and enthusiasm for their subjects. When that shows through, when you can “see” that in the writing, that’s what hooks me (just like your blog Liz). Heck, they can even use big words on occasion! That passion would be the only thing I’d add to your excellent list.

  24. says

    Hey, StarBucker,
    To tell the truth, I’m a big word junkie too. What i don’t like is people who use big words when they don’t need to, especially when it’s obvious that they’re just doing so to be a “show off.” I have a friend that every time I speak with him he uses a word like zeitgeist and I just drool, but it’s perfectly natural for him to say so. For him, it’s NOT a big word. It’s just a word.

    I agree about passion. Passion is right up there with content where I’m concerned. A person who’s writing about something I could care less about can turn my head and hold me spellbound if he’s in love with what he writes.

  25. says

    (Re big words)

    Many years ago I had a partner who sometimes liked to brag about his education. I think he liked it all the more because I am mostly self educated – I dropped out of high school the moment I was legally able.

    Anyway, Don (we’ll call him Don because that was his name) had prepared a new company brochure and was presenting it to me and another partner. As I was reading it, I came across an interesting sentence:

    ‘We provide simple pneumonic phrases to help you remember the commands.’

    “Don, what the hell is a ‘pneumonic phrase’, I asked (not all that pleasantly).

    Don nearly preened himself. “Well, if you had the benefit of a college education, you’d know that a pneumonic is a memory aid.”

    I shook my head. “I am an autodidact, you fatuous ass, but I know how to spell and I know that the word you were thinking of is ‘mnemonic’ and that YOUR word is more usually found in conjunction with plagues”. I wrote ‘MNEMONIC’ out in large letters as I said that.

    ‘Benefits of a college education’ indeed.

  26. says

    Tony,
    I’m started laughing at because that was his name . . . and I’m still laughing now. You should copy this comment and post it on your blog just as it is. It made my day. If you say you’re not going do. I’d love to take it from under the page and show it off.

    That ‘s the best story I’ve heard in a long time!

    Thanks for starting my day in such a great way!

  27. says

    Hi Liz –
    I like your comment on keeping it short and sweet. I read up on a little on Winston Churchill (the man we Irish love to hate) when naming my own company (Islandbridge) a couple of years ago and he talks about the short words being best, “and the old words best of all.” I’ve found that pretty useful and aim to use an old English word where I can over its European equivalent (tends to give a thought or sentiment a little more heft).

  28. says

    Hi Liz,
    This is my first visit here and it has been pleasant and informative. I got your link from ProBlogger and decided to check you out. I’m glad I did! I don’t have a blog yet… but expect to soon. I’ll send you a link when I do. I will be returning on a regular basis to pick up some of the writing tidbits you drop on the floor.
    Thanks,
    Alan Koebel

  29. says

    Hi Alan,
    I’m delighted to meet you. It’s nice to know that some folks are smarter than I was . . . that you’re checking things out before diving in. Stop by tomorrow night for open comment night and meet some of the folks who hang out here. They’re really quite helpful and they’ll be your first and longest blogging friends, I’m willing to bet!

  30. says

    This is a great list – true and accurate!!! There’s a forum I lurk in and some of the members there would do well to heed number 10. I don’t think it’s just relevant for blogging and it sums up exactly something I wanted to say but didn’t know how to. I shall be pointing the readers with a gentle nudge in this direction.

    Best wishes….Bernie

  31. says

    Thanks Bernie,
    I know that sometimes when lots of comments are happening, an occasional comment can get overlooked, but when a comment is overlooked it’s like saying that person doesn’t exist or their words aren’t worth acknowledging. Just about everyone I know has had it happen. I suppose it happens sometimes because the blog owner has no artful response . . . “Hey thanks” would work for a starter or even “I hear ya.” would be nice.
    :P

  32. says

    This is good.

    I’d like to add something else:

    Writers should be honest with their works.

    Too many people lie nowadays. Kills the credibility when you see through their hypocrisy.

    Open-mindedness is another good thing to have too.

  33. says

    Hi Bodicea,
    I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s important to be there, be right, be honest, and be authentic. Having room for the words is having room for the thoughts. That takes a mind that is open to thinking . . . :)

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