Image by Victor Hanacek

Revision Is an Act of Generosity

Writing Productivity Tip #6: Revise for the Reader’s Productivity

Past posts in this series have been about finding ways write more fluidly and easily. (See Write for Flow, Not Perfection.) The revision process is your chance to extend this same courtesy to the reader. Put in the effort to make the experience of reading as fluid as possible.

It’s a matter of scalability. There’s one writer — you. Ideally, your writing will reach a broad audience of countless people. Spend time streamlining the reading process for them, and your readers won’t struggle to get your message.

Bonus: The easier it is to read, the more likely people are to read and share your piece.

If you were in a state of flow while writing the first draft, it now includes artifacts of your thought processes.

Revising bridges the gap between your thoughts and your readers’ understanding.

As Ann Handley says in Everybody Writes:

Good writing anticipates the questions that readers might have as they’re reading a piece, and it answers them.

The Fallacy of Sounding Smart

In some cultures, extended, complex sentences are the hallmark of a well-educated writer, showcasing a mind capable of navigating complexity.

Academicians often pride themselves on their ability to construct long sentences, wielding dependent clauses like badges of honor. Here’s an important difference: professors can assign readings and students have no choice but to read (or pretend they have.) In the real world, people put down non-required reading and move on.

If you write to sound smart, readers might struggle to piece together your meaning. They’ll either feel stupid or abandon the effort. Neither outcome is good for your writing career.

Empathize With the Reader

When revising, consider how a reader might encounter your piece.

Are they reading online? People don’t read carefully from a screen. Long sentences don’t work well. Online readers have more distractions, like emails and Facebook, competing for their attention. Don’t get in the way of comprehension.

Are your readers in a hurry? (Who isn’t?) Are they looking for something specific? Add subheads, call-outs, or other navigation to help people find what they need quickly. You like to think they’ll linger over every word. But many will skim, particularly business or instructional writing.

Do sentences require extra mental energy to process? When you read it, do you ever have to stop and re-parse the sentence to make sense of it? If so, find a way to rephrase it.

Being grammatically correct has no value if the reader abandons the sentence.

Tip: To find problematic sentences, read the piece out loud. If you have to add vocal emphasis or rely on your inflection to make sense of what you’re reading, then your reader might go astray. Fix the sentence to clarify.

Revision is an act of generosity for your reader. Be generous with your time and effort.

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Author, Writing Coach, Unapologetic Nonfiction Geek. Writing about Writing Itself (very meta).

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