Goodwill in Technical and Scientific Writing


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Writers often overlook the importance of creating goodwill in their technical, scientific, and business documents. In other words, ensuring that when your readers finish reading your document, they are satisfied with the content, that it’s met their needs, and that it hasn't been a huge struggle to get through. Believe it or not, most readers are interested in understanding early what the document is about and what action they're supposed to take upon finishing it. They want to be able to read it quickly and easily, without having to have a dictionary close by, and be able to understand it with minimal effort. Before we address how to create usable and readable writing which creates goodwill, let's first discuss some of the issues that frustrate readers. 

First, we need to understand how our reader views us, the topic, and our writing. Understanding how the reader views us can help us create goodwill; for instance, if the reader sees us as competent and professional, the reader may approach reading a document a little differently than if s/he saw us as incompetent and unprofessional. However, we can't assume that simply because we or our work are viewed positively that that gets us off the hook in terms of good writing. If, for instance, a writer continues to submit poorly written documents to his/her supervisor, that supervisor will, in all likelihood, have made up his/her mind that the document will be difficult to read and therefore won't approach the document with an open mind. In fact, s/he may have already made up their mind that the document will be difficult to get through, even if it's not. And who can blame that reader? No one, especially in the business world, has the time to hard to read and understand documents.

We should also understand how our reader feels about the topic--do they have a bias towards it or do they feel negatively about it? Knowing this can help us write a documetn that uses positive information to buffer the negative. To create goodwill in technical, business, or scientific writing, we need to ensure that we understand our audience and their needs: why they’re reading the document and what they hope to get out of it. In other words, we have to create reader-, not writer-, centered documents. For any document you write, you should be able to list several attributes and needs of your readers and then explain the role these attributes play in terms of how you write the document and what strategy you’re going to use to meet their needs. For instance, how will you organize the document, what language choices will you make, how will you prioritize information? Asking yourself these questions in the prewriting stages will help you write for readers and create a document that creates goodwill because readers will have little difficulty reading and understanding it.