Writers, listen to readers

This week, the beginning of my new semester at Sacramento State magically aligned with a plain language workshop I was giving and a library book club I was leading.  At first, alignment was the last thing I expected. I was meeting with three very different groups.

At Sac State, I had five sections of twenty-something students dreading a semester spent focused on essay writing.

At a big energy company, I had fifteen economist PhDs, struggling to make their complicated ideas understood by others outside their domain.

And at Arden-Dimick library, I had fifteen mystery-loving library-fans.

In all three places, though, the participants circled back to the same idea. If you write well, you can thrive in most any workplace. If you do not, you spend too much time and energy hiding that weakness. You fail to persuade your customers to buy your product or idea. You struggle to clarify your thinking for your colleagues or supervisors or teachers. You find yourself dreading writing days, almost as much as you dread the days when you hear back from your readers. Your organization probably suffers as a result.

The library group reminded me what happens when a writer is unclear. The reader puts down the book. Or the memo. Or the essay.


It was good to get such a timely, explicit reminder why we work so hard to tell complicated stories plainly.

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