By John Lonsdorf, President, R&J Public Relations
“Nobody reads anymore.”
When I hear people say this, it drives me nuts. Granted, I may not exactly be the “average American,” but most of the people I know read. Many read books regularly – novels and historical fiction, mostly. Statistics bear this out: The latest Gallup poll tells us that at any given time, 47% of Americans are currently reading a book. And while the percentage of people who are reading a book is greatest in the 30 to 49 (47%) and 50 to 64 (51%) age groups, fully 40% of those 18 to 29 are currently reading a book.
And reading is certainly not limited to books. The New York Times remains one of the most read, and THE most emailed and linked pure news site on the Internet. And nobody would accuse the Times of being a “light read.”
So what’s my point? My point is that people ARE reading, and since they are, it is important that EVERYONE – but especially those of us in the communication field – demonstrates appreciation for that by delivering good, interesting and understandable writing.
The secret to good writing is to write the way you speak. Too many people choke when faced with having to write something. Yet many of the people who choke when faced with the need to write something are the same people who can carry on an interesting, multi-faceted conversation well into the wee hours.
Social media has also eroded the value that some place on writing. One of my colleagues said this to me about a month ago: “Twitter has proven that people don’t want to read long paragraphs.” Well, Twitter has proven a lot of things, but one of those is most certainly NOT that people won’t read anything over 140 characters as long as it is interesting, compelling and relevant to them. Don’t confuse informal, disposable writing (as practiced on Twitter) with serious written communication that makes a point and moves the reader. (Thank you for making it this far, not stopping after “Average American” in my second paragraph to help to prove this point.)
That said, generally speaking, short words are better. As are short sentences and short paragraphs. Too many writers use big words or windy paragraphs in an attempt to prove how smart they are. That “strategy” can easily backfire on you.
What’s best is to write something that people want to read. Think about it. When you write something, you are, in effect, asking someone – your reader – to invest some of their hard-earned time reading what you write. Respect that. Take your time. Look over what you’ve written. Not the precise word that you intend? That’s why they invented dictionaries and thesauruses. Like anything worth achieving, good writing takes effort. And like many things in life, when you have the chance to look over your initial effort, you will almost always find areas where improvements should be made.
Which brings me back full-circle to my initial rant. Contrary to what some believe, people are still reading. And since they are reading, they deserve good content. Good writers are almost always good readers. So if you want to write well, you need to read. Read different types of writing. Admire the pace, the rhythm and the cadence that good writers bring to their craft. Note how good writers paint a picture with their words – a picture that has texture and can be every bit as vivid as a work of art. Spend time with the written word. Carve out some time every day to read.
Good reading leads to good writing. And one of the chief lessons that those of us in the communication field have always known is this: If you write well, people WILL read.