Does your writing leave readers asking, "So what?"

             


Posted Jan. 17, 2019

Your readers won't necessarily care about your topic just because you do.
 
Unfortunately, it's all too easy to spend hours crafting a report, presentation, or even just an email, only to have readers walk away saying, "...and?"
 
Sometimes that "...and?" means they don't understand why they should care. Why did they just spend their valuable time reading your work? What difference does your topic make? What difference does it make to them? At other times, they may understand why they should care, but they don't know what to do with what you just wrote. What action should they take? What's their next step?
 
Part of your responsibility as the writer is to give them a reason to care and then help point them in an appropriate direction for further action, even if it's just to reflect further on what you've written (though often you can give them a more concrete action step).
 
How do you address this? Just tell them why they should care: "So what? Here's what."
 
In other words, at some point you should explicitly inform the reader why the information you're communicating matters to them, the difference it will make to/for them, and what they will be able to do with it. For example, why should you care about this article? Because understanding this common writing mistake will allow you to engage more successfully with your readers. If you can address the "...and?" question, you'll be more likely to persuade them to your points and more likely to prompt the post-reading action you want.
 
But what if even you don't know why they should care or what they should do?
 
In that case, take a step back and write an outcome statement. This is a statement you write for yourself that explains (1) the objective and (2) the purpose of the document. You can structure the outcome statement like this: "The objective of X is to achieve Y for the purpose of Z." It is possible to have multiple objectives and purposes, but in general you should try to keep the outcome statement as simple as possible.
 
For example: "The objective of this proposal is to persuade the prospective customer that we are best suited to supply a service, and they should sign a contract with us."
 
Or: "The objective of this research report is to help readers understand its subject matter so (1) the grant organization will continue funding our research and our fellow researchers will use our findings in their own work to advance the field even further.
 
An outcome statement clarifies the "so what" question in your own mind, to keep your writing focused and prevent readers from falling into the "...and?" trap. The result: more effective writing that is more likely to succeed in its ultimate purpose.
 
About Hurley Write, Inc.
 
Hurley Write, Inc., a certified women-owned small business (WBENC and WOSB), Historically Underutilized (HUB), and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE), has been designing and teaching customized onsite and online technical, business, and scientific writing courses for over 25 years. We also develop and teach specialty courses, such as how to write winning proposals and writing SOPs and deviation and investigation reports, and how to prepare and give great presentations.