I’m one of those rare people who pins a bunch of recipes on Pinterest and then actually tries them. So Monday night, after a busy day of work, I rushed into the kitchen to try out a simple new recipe.
Which called for (among other things): a “large” can of diced tomatoes, a “package” of gnocchi and “spinach.” The instructions included the directive to “bake for 20 minutes.”
I really wished I had realized how awful the directions were before I decided to make this meal, but I was committed. (Ok, ok, I would have given up but there was a hungry toddler prancing around the kitchen.)
I made a whole lot of guesses, followed by some assumptions, and got through the recipe.
Dinner was actually pretty good, but that’s one website I’ll be sure to avoid in the future.
Why? Because I want to know exactly what size a “large can of tomatoes” and a “package” of gnocchi are. “Spinach”? How much?! “Bake”? At what temperature?!
Now, this might have been poor writing on the author’s part. But, more likely, it was the curse of knowledge.
I know, how can knowledge be a curse, right?
It can. The curse of knowledge happens when you are so familiar with what you know that you skip the simplest, smallest things. You either assume that people already know them, or you don’t even realize they’re missing because they’re things you no longer even think about.
The results for your audience are rarely good.
So how can you avoid making a curse-of-knowledge mistake?
Outline before you begin
The best way to ensure you hit every point and write in a way that flows is to create an outline first.
If you’re rolling your eyes, I feel you. Outlines used to annoy the heck out of me because they felt like an extra step.
They’re not, I promise.
What outlines do is create a guide that ensures you stay on track, hit all of your points and reach the conclusion you intended. Any by doing all of that, they help protect you against the curse o’knowledge, because your writing is clear and streamlined.
Outlining doesn’t have to be complicated, either. I like to grab a notebook and jot down the following:
- Working title
- Synopsis (one sentence or so that describes what the piece will be about)
- Intro (any ideas I have for how to start the piece)
- Supporting points (a summary plus any ideas/facts/stats that back those points)
- Conclusion (any ideas I have for how to end the piece)
This process will save you considerable time when you sit down to write. Outlining comes in especially handy when your writing time is interrupted—say, by a baby who woke from his nap far too early (which is happening to me right now—no joke). But, thanks to my outline, I’ll pick up right where I left off when I sit down to write again.
Be a teacher
What feels obvious to you is not always obvious to your reader. You’re the expert, so think of yourself as a teacher and your audience as the student. It’s your job to educate them and be their guide. Write with this mindset and you’ll be vastly more effective at getting your point across.
Re-read your writing
Ok, this is an easy one. But before you hit publish or send, read what you’ve written. If you stumble over words, rewrite. If you aren’t 100% sure what you’ve said is clear, then clarify.
The best time to read over your own writing is NOT immediately after you finish a draft. Let it sit-- for a few days, overnight, or even just a few hours, depending on what you have time for-- and then return to your work. It's easier catch mistakes this way because you're separated from your original intent.
Give it to someone else
Don’t hesitate to hand off important projects to a second set of eyes—after all, every professional author has an editor for a reason. At some point, it becomes hard to edit your own work (it’s the curse of knowledge plus the curse-of-I’ve-read-this-a-thousand-times-already).
Don’t have a professional on call? That's ok! If you want to double check the clarity of your words, a friend, spouse or neighbor can provide all the insight you need. (Just ask my husband how many times I've asked him "Does this sentence make sense to you?")
Being an expert is one thing, but writing about your area of expertise is a whole different game. Remember to take a step back to make sure you’re putting your smart, savvy self out there in the best possible way.
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