Not Every Reader is Looking for a 3-Course Meal

Gillian Sisley

Most are looking to grab a couple of hors d’oeuvres as they pass through. Is your writing serving the right food to hungry readers?

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Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Thank God for writing platforms — they’re full of hungry readers and curious minds, and that’s great news for writers like us.

It’s no secret that making a living through writing is incredibly difficult. There are many of us aiming to make a full-time income off of our writing, the thing we’re most passionate about.

But how do we empower our writing to really speak to readers, and really resonate in a way which has them gobbling up every single word until the very end?

If this is a question you’re often asking yourself, or are looking at your reading stats wishing they were a bit higher, then there’s something you need to hear, right now.

Let’s dive in:

You should be writing in Plain Language.

Is my public relations background showing? If it isn’t yet, it’s about to.

So, let’s start with a really straight-forward explanation of what “Public Relations” actually means (I know many people aren’t sure, or just go by the idea of PR practitioners being ‘spin doctors’. This is false, most of us operate by a strict code of ethics).

In its essence, PR professionals are the middle-man between a company and the public. Their main job is to both deliver and listen to pieces of information, and attempt to bring the company and their audience to a place of mutual understanding.

PR people, like myself, make sure that clear communication is happening.

I mention this to give a bit of context to the advice I’m about to deliver as someone who works professionally in communicating online and through marketing initiatives with readers of all types.

So here it is:

You know what’s often a synonym of “clear communication”? It’s something called using “plain language” when crafting written work.

Before you get too offended — plain language is NOT about dumbing-down your content or writing to the point where you feel it loses integrity.

Plain language means writing in a style and format which makes your work as accessible to as many people as possible. This includes those for whom English is a second language, or readers who have a limited educational background, etc. etc.

That said, plain language is also great for your readers who may have a high reading proficiency as well — most people enjoy reading for pleasure at an 8th-grade reading level, even if they have multiple degrees under their belt.

Fun fact — Earnest Hemingway often wrote at a 4th-grade reading level.

That’s to say there’s plenty of research to back up the fact that readers enjoy reading simpler content with clearer communication when doing so for pleasure.

This is even more so the case for Medium.

Deliver snack-sized portions of information.

The Medium app has made it even easier for readers to pop in, read a few articles, and then pop out.

Sometimes sessions are as little as a couple of minutes.

When there’s such a casual and leisurely nature to a reader’s active sessions on online platforms like Medium, our writing has to be something they have room for and can stomach.

If readers have been encountering and consuming content all day long (aka. a 3-course meal), they’re not hungry enough to eat another full serving of food.

If anything, they’re just looking for a snack to curb their craving.

Do you have snacks to offer your readers, or do you only have an entire Sunday-dinner spread?

If your writing is too dense and complex, it’s worth asking yourself this question — “Is my writing the kind of leisurely reading Medium users would enjoy, or is it too heavy?”

An easy way to write in plainer language starting now? Write the way you speak.

Drop the dense and heavy words you wouldn’t use in everyday conversation. Consider your Medium articles, or any online writing for that matter, a conversation where your goal is for your reader to not only understand what you’re saying, but also enjoy it, even if they’re only looking for a casual encounter with your work.

Be honest — are you writing for yourself, or your audience?

This is the honest truth of the matter — if you’re not writing in plain language, you’re writing for yourself, not your readers. Full stop.

Which, if that’s your reason for writing online, then by all means! Continue expressing yourself in a way which really speaks to your soul. Continue to fulfill yourself and satisfy your inner writer.

As they say, you do you, booboo.

That said, if you’re looking to gain readership and fans, and increase the stat numbers, you need to start writing for readers, not for yourself.

The most common reason that writers don’t use plain language is often that they believe they sound more intelligent writing with flowery words and complex sentence structures.

The only person who is benefitting from this writing style, in that case, is you. And you alone.

Readers will likely feel overwhelmed and click away from your content if it’s too heavy for them and requires they really put some serious brain power into processing your work.

Final word.

As mentioned above, if you’re only looking to satisfy your #1 reader and fan (being yourself), then continue to use whichever reading level or style of writing you’d like, and feel free to disregard my advice.

However.

If you’re interested in attracting more readers, seeing your stats grow (and possibly seeing bigger payouts from your writing), then I urge you to sit down with your work and really consider who you’re writing for when you craft an article.

Are you creating content to give yourself advice? Or are you offering advice and insights to others? Odds are, you’re offering your perspective to others.

So increase your success and mutual understanding with your audience by aiming for an 8th-grade reading level. You can use free online Readability tools to test out your content and get an idea of the reading level for your style of writing.

Depending on your topics, you may also find that you’re writing at different reading levels for different categories. For example, this article (topic: professional writing) scores at a 9th-grade reading level.

Whereas my lighter-themed content, like Success is Wildly Uncomfortable (topic: self) scores at a 7–8th-grade reading level.

Test out your different tones and styles of writing, depending on the topic and depending on which type of reader is likely to be reading your content.

I hope this article has been helpful, and has given you a few hors- d’oeuvres to snack on while you make your way throughout the rest of your day.

Until next time, happy writing!

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Online solopreneur. Tea drinker. Committed optimist. I write about trending news, viral Reddit content, and anything else that tickles my fancy.

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