Writing to demonstrate knowledge (Mistake #21)

This is an interesting one, which I tend to see in younger writers, perhaps just out of school or college or uni, and therefore maybe fresh from writing essays.

Articles are not essays, clearly. One of the key differences – there are many – is that in an essay you are typically writing to show what you know: to tell the reader – your teacher, the examiner – that you are familiar with the subject at hand and that you deserve a good grade.

Some beginner writers put together their articles like this. It’s over-enthusiasm, quite often. They’re so keen, and so passionate, that in it all goes, fairly unedited. “This is what I know – and this is what I want you to know and what I want you to know that I know.” If it’s their pet or specialist subject, it can be hugely tempting to really go to town, with little titbits, extra asides in brackets, that the writer hopes will earn ‘bonus marks’, never mind the snowballing four-figure word count. Some even mention their research (see Mistake No. 10).

Here’s the thing: try to forget about what you want people to know, and concentrate on what they need to know.

The reader is not someone who is checking up on your general knowledge – but someone who wants to be informed, educated and possibly entertained. It can be sometimes easy to lose sight of this when you’re starting out.

Remember too that what readers need to know may be knowledge that you don’t have, and which you will need to research, or source from an expert through an interview. Uncovering this new information is, in a sense, doing your homework. Perhaps this business isn’t so different from school or uni after all…

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