Do as you would be done by: how to connect with your reader


Sarah Farley / 2013

One of my first jobs was as a cashier in a building society. At the counter, I came face-to-face with all sides of human nature — friendly, impatient, worried, aggrieved, confused or plain rude. It was tough, but I found that the best way through every situation was to treat people the way I like to be treated.

It’s the key to connecting with readers too: write as you’d like to be written to. But it doesn’t happen automatically, because writing media – whether printed or online – creates a physical barrier.

As a cashier I had to look customers in the eye and respond immediately. But when we write, because we‘re not face-to-face, we risk losing the human connection.

Skype, FaceTime and other media are helping to bridge the gap, but meanwhile new barriers are popping up everywhere, as written messages — mainly email and text — replace face-to-face conversations.

But you can blow the barriers away with just a little imaginative empathy. Put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Imagine yourself on the other end – looking through their eyes. What are they thinking?

“I want you to recognise my situation right now as I’m reading.”

“Keep it simple please: I haven’t got time for small print.”

“Tell me what to do: is there an action or is this just for my information?”

“Give me confidence in you, with a communication that’s accurate and professional.”

Making this connection is the hard part, but once you’ve understood the reader’s interest it becomes obvious what to say and how to say it, and your writing can flow as naturally as speaking.

Sarah Farley

Further reading: how to explain first time