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Five best ways to avoid scowling at your readers Contributed To Bookpleasures.com By Daphne Gray-Grant
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Daphne Gray-Grant
Daphne Gray-Grant is former features editor at a major metropolitan daily newspaper, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writer, editor and writing coach. Follow Here For Her Website where you can sign up for her free weekly newsletter or buy her popular book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster.  
By Daphne Gray-Grant
Published on June 22, 2012
 

Like many ex-journalists, I pride myself in being skeptical. But I also have a Pollyanna streak that leads me to believe that being kind is one of the keys to success. A recent York University study found that people who performed small acts of kindness — every day for five to 15 minutes for a week — increased their happiness and self-esteem.


Like many ex-journalists, I pride myself in being skeptical. But I also have a Pollyanna streak that leads me to believe that being kind is one of the keys to success. A recent York University study found that people who performed small acts of kindness — every day for five to 15 minutes for a week — increased their happiness and self-esteem.

I may have to turn in my papers as a grumpy ex-journalist, but I agree. It's not just the whole catch-more-flies-with-honey-than-vinegar thing. It's also that kindness tends to beget more kindness.

So this jump-started my thinking.... How can you be kind in writing? Sounds funny, I know, but here are five literary ways to turn that frown upside down.

1) Write like you talk. Don't use high falutin' language, complicated syntax or five-syllable words to show off your smarts. When I was in the newspaper business, we used to call this "smoking jacket language" -- the kind of pompous talk used by someone wearing a velvet jacket, holding a cigar and swirling some brandy in a snifter. You don't ever talk like that, you say? Let's consider the common phrase: "In my humble opinion..." Huh? How about saying "I think" or "I believe" instead?

2) Don't use jargon. This is trickier than it sounds because one person's jargon is another person's normal language. But here's a question: Do you regularly use terms like SEO, RSS or Web 2.0 in your writing? My husband, who has seven years of post-secondary education, doesn't have a clue what they mean. If he's your reader, he'll consider that language a big fat scowl.

3) Don't waste your reader's time. Be concise. When editing, try to remove 20% of your text. Use boldface and headlines to make it easy for your reader to skim or scan your text.

4) Tell stories and use metaphors. We don't need more facts in this world. We're drowning in 'em! We need more understanding. The best way to achieve this is to tell stories and use metaphors. For example, I can suggest you spend an hour a month working on your income tax, or I can tell you a story about someone who did that and saved herself weeks of misery in April. (Yes, that person was me!) Which do you think is more convincing -- the advice or the proof? Likewise, I can describe someone as a mouthy know-it-all or I can tell you he's the Donald Trump of the building. See what I mean?

5) Watch your order. When I edit, I often discover that writers have presented information "out of order." That is, they tell me Point C when I really need to know Point A first. Think hard about your readers' "need to know" and be sure to define terms or explain processes at just the right time in the text.

"Being kind" in your writing isn't rocket science. It's just the literary equivalent of the golden rule: treat your readers as you would like to be treated yourself.