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If there’s one thing us writers can’t stop harping on about, it’s the importance of thinking about your reader – of writing for them, not yourself. It’s a common theme on this blog, and in most advice on writing.

So why do we keep repeating ourselves, when it’s bleedin’ obvious that you should consider the person who’s going to read your stuff?

Because, for many people, although it’s bleedin’ obvious, it’s also bloody difficult. If you’re not in the habit of doing it, putting yourself in the reader’s shoes takes a huge mental leap – from the comfort zone where you simply write about what you know, to the less cosy place where you have to think about what your reader (whom you’ve probably never met) might want to know.

Imagine you’re writing an ad for something with obvious appeal, like a dishwasher. What are you selling? The automatic detergent dispenser? Residual heat drying system? Intensive bacteria removal? A+ energy rating? Perhaps, but these things aren’t what your reader is buying in the first instance. They might be on the shopping list, but not at the top of it.

What your reader’s really buying is all the things they can do with their life instead of standing at the sink, up to their elbows in Fairy suds. It’s the clean dishes with next to no effort.

But if you know all about the whizzy features, you’ll really, really want to write about them. And this is where that mental leap comes in. You have to force yourself to forget what you know about the product, and think instead about why the reader will want to buy it. In most cases, you’ll end up with a very different sales message. Instead of, “Hygiene and efficiency through technology”, your headline will probably be something like, “Sparkling dishes while you’re still partying”.

There’s a famous quote of disputed origins: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.” Yes, of course they do. But it takes much more thought and effort to write about the hole. In fact, it’s a completely different way of thinking.

So we shouldn’t be surprised that we’re still – and probably always will be – reminding people to write for their reader. It’s very obvious. But it’s not very easy.

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