How to get your message across to your readers

As a writer, how do you get your message across to your readers as clearly as possible? 1) clarify your audience, 2) write your 1st draft, 3) self-edit/rewrite as many times as necessary, and 4) get it edited by a professional editor.

Clarify your audience

To communicate well with your audience you need to understand who they are and what they need. Are they:

  • children? Young adults? Middle-aged people? Elderly people? Women? Men?
  • people of a specific ethnic origin or who live in a specific country?
  • people who already know a lot about your topic, or who know nothing about your topic?
  • people whose first language is (or is not) the language you are writing in?

What’s their level of education? Their knowledge of the topic? Do they like or need illustrations or photos? What length of publication will suit your audience?

If your chosen audience is from the same demographic as yourself, you will already share some understanding. If they are not from your demographic you’ll need to look and learn from other publications with similar target audiences. What style and language and length of publication suits your audience? If there are already other books about the topic written for your audience, how is your book going to be different? Should you look at targeting your book to a wider audience?

1st Draft

Put on your courageous writer’s hat. Write your 1st draft with the sole aim of getting the words onto the page.

Whether this is painful or pleasurable and how long it takes depends on who you are and what you’re writing.

Your completed 1st draft will probably include parts that are so rough they need to be rewritten. Some parts will have come out back to front and need to be fixed up. Other parts may read beautifully the way they are. Whole paragraphs or even chapters may need to be deleted. That’s okay. It’s only a 1st draft manuscript.


First stage of self-editing

Save your manuscript as ‘1st draft’ and resave your first self-edited draft as ‘2nd draft’.

To commence self-editing, you need to leave your writer’s hat behind, and put on your editor’s hardhat.

To self-edit your manuscript, you need a big picture view of the message you are trying to get across to your audience. Edit with a view to making your manuscript 1) clearly understood by the reader, and 2) engaging until the last page.

Writers are precious and sensitive about their words. Editors can’t afford to be precious. Slash and burn. Later on, if you regret deleting or changing something, you can always go back to a previous draft and get it back.

Subsequent stages of self-editing

Once you have self-edited your manuscript, it’s a good idea to put it on a shelf for at least a week before again picking up your editor’s pen.

If you have made any major structural changes or rewritten new sections into the manuscript, you will certainly need to self-edit it again. But even if you feel happy with your manuscript after self-editing it once, you’ll probably find that your manuscript will be greatly improved by self-editing it at least one more time. Remember, many a great author has rewritten or self-edited their manuscript a dozen times before sending it to the editing team.

If you wish to use beta readers, choose them wisely. Don’t give the manuscript to your Mum or sister to read (unless they are professional editors). Choose beta readers who are similar (in terms of gender, demographic etc.) to your chosen audience. And choose beta readers who you know will have no qualms about harshly criticising your manuscript. Because honest criticism by those beta readers will enable you to improve your manuscript before sending it to an editor.

Editing and proofreading

The over-arching goal of an editor is to ensure you get your message across to the reader as clearly as possible.

Find a suitably experienced editor and hand your manuscript to them to:

  • conduct a manuscript appraisal so you can improve it further, or
  • edit your manuscript. They will advise you whether it needs structural or line/copy editing. If it needs structural editing, it’s likely they will need to edit it twice – the first time, with an eye on the overall structure of the manuscript and making the major corrections required and the second time, correcting the remaining grammar and minor errors.

While editing your manuscript, the editor may find sections that need to be rewritten by you (rather than edited by them) in which case you will need to work on those sections again yourself.

After your manuscript has been edited it will need to be proofread, prior to design and publication.

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This article is based on my own experience over the past 20 plus years, writing, editing and proofreading reports, policy documents and my own and others’ publications; self-publishing non-fiction hardcopy publications; and publishing articles online. Keep posted for future articles about writing, editing and proofreading.

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