Write Like Your Reader Knows Nothing

When I was a middle school student, one of my teachers gave me the best piece of writing advice ever. He was preparing us for a test where he had many short-answer and essay questions, and he told the class to approach each question as if he, the person who would be grading it, knew absolutely nothing about the subject. It taught us to write down everything we knew about the subject.

Even if you know you’re presenting to an audience who knows more than you, you should follow this advice, too. Write as if you’re the expert and your audience knows nothing. It brings a thoroughness and an authority to your writing. (Despite the fact you’re writing as the expert, you should still use an appropriate voice. No one wants to read advice from an insufferable know-it-all.)

I frequently encourage my students to take this approach when they’re working on their essays. They balk, realizing it means a lot of work for them to figure out how to get what they know out of their head and onto the paper, but in the end it always produces a great, informative essay.


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