The View from Inside

Jun 1, 2012 | Better Writing

If you’re an insider or an expert of any kind, it’s important to remember that things look really different to others who don’t have your knowledge and experience. To borrow a phrase I first heard years ago: “You can’t read the label from inside the jar.”

That’s a challenge if you want to write about what you know so you can share it with others. In their excellent book, Made to Stick, the Heath brothers call this “The Curse of Knowledge.”

If you can’t view things from outside yourself, get someone else to do it for you. Use their eyes when your own won’t work. Get them to read the label to you.

Ask them how they perceive what you’re writing about. You may discover that the jargon and abbreviations you experience as helpful are just a jumble of incomprehensibility to outsiders. Almost always, the things that you understand as interesting are not the same things that interest them.

Read your writing aloud to someone from the group you’re writing for. Why aloud? There are two reasons.

When you read aloud it’s easier for your listener to share his or her reactions. If you’re in the room together you can probably spot confusion in their facial expression. And reading aloud will expose the ungainly parts of your prose so you can fix them.

Bottom Line

It hard to write about things you know well if you try to go it alone. So get help.

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