How To Respect The Intelligence Of The Reader

by Sean D'Souza

There are writers. And there are writers.
But you see I was a cartoonist.

It was way back in the year 1988

I was drawing cartoon strips for a very popular newspaper called ‘Mid-Day’. And every day, I’d draw a new strip, and submit it to the newspaper. And since it was back in the days before the Internet, I often had to get on a train, travel 20 miles (about 20 kilometres), walk for 15 minutes to get to the newspaper office before the 7:30 am deadline.

One day I ran into the editor. And he commended me on my cartoons. “But there’s one thing you can do to make it better”, he said.

You need to respect the intelligence of the reader

“You need to write the joke, so that the reader almost gets it,” he said. “And that way the reader anticipates the humour and has twice the laugh. If you go into too much detail and explain the joke in your comic strip, you lose out on the punch. The reader feels cheated. And it’s all because you haven’t respected their intelligence.”

As a writer you need to respect the intelligence of the reader too…

In your writing, you’ll often find that the story you’re telling is coming to an obvious end. And so, you simply leave out the obvious end. You simply let the reader make up the story in their own mind.

So how do you do this ‘intelligence’ bit? Let’s look at an example.

My friend Karen has no problem exercising. Rain, cold, even boiling hot weather doesn’t stop her from putting on those sneakers and bounding out the door.
I have no such luck. I hate exercise. Every cell in my body rises up in mutiny at the thought of doing any repetitive movement.
The flip side is that I love food. And as you probably know, I’m fussy about cooking a variety of great food.

You see the problem, don’t you?
Which is why I had to invent the ‘chocolate motivator.’

As you’re reading the last line of the first paragraph, you’ve already figured out that I love food.
And hate exercise. What happens next? You as a reader already know the answer, so I have to respect your intelligence. Which is why instead of belabouring how many pounds/kilos I put on, I simply move ahead in a swift, nimble way. Your brain fills in the blanks. And whether you consciously think about it or not, you realise I’m respecting your intelligence.

Respecting the intelligence also allows for drama in your writing.
As you noticed, having spared you the details of the whole ‘weight issue’, I went on to talk about the ‘chocolate motivator’. Now I’ve got you even more interested, because you want to know more about the ‘chocolate motivator’.

You can now use something really unusual to let the customer slide through your article, or you can even use something the customer isn’t expecting at all.

Let’s have a look at an example:

My friend Karen has no problem exercising. Rain, cold, even boiling hot weather doesn’t stop her from putting on those sneakers and bounding out the door.
I have no such luck. I hate exercise. Every cell in my body rises up in mutiny at the thought of doing any repetitive movement.
The flip side is that I love food. And as you probably know, I’m fussy about cooking a variety of great food.

And despite this perfect storm, I lost six pounds in less than two weeks.
And it’s all due to the invention of the ‘chocolate motivator.’

See what happened above?
In a piece, you can still respect the reader, and yet bring in something so disconnected that the reader is yanked out of their mid-afternoon snooze. Suddenly they’re paying close attention. And then having got their attention, you lead them merrily through the article using drama and flow.

Writing with drama and flow a learned skill
You need to know when to tell your story. And when to shut up. But mostly you need to respect the intelligence of your reader. It’s only then that you get the reader’s respect back. :)

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Vic of BusinessAccent July 23, 2009 at 9:43 pm

I totally agree, understanding and respecting the wants and desires of your readers can turn them on. We shall write not to fulfill our selves, but we shall write to satisfy our readers. Thanks for the great post!

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Colin July 26, 2009 at 10:31 pm

Hello Shaun

Thanks for these articles. I’ll get to reading them all ;o)

Best regards.

Colin

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Jon P July 27, 2009 at 5:19 am

Sean, thanks.

For me, this is very timely. I’m just now launching into writing a blog and articles to support my business. Like you, I don’t have a background in writing, so the ideas are jumping out of my head, but technique (or lack thereof) is holding me back. These articles will help.

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