Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Let Your Readers Fill In the Blanks

Readers can--and will--react to your writing however they want. They can criticize it, flame you with sarcastic comments, misinterpret you and misunderstand you. Sometimes, your readers will project things onto your writing that never even crossed your mind.

So let 'em! Put your readers to work for you. These are some of the techniques I've used at my food blog Casual Kitchen to bring readers into the conversation:

1) I leave deliberate gaps in my arguments.
This is actually one of the best techniques of all, because it rewards your most astute readers for paying close attention. Better still, when your best readers fill in a gap in your argument, often the conversation heads off in to a surprising direction, which provides you with more ideas for future posts.

2) I ask my readers questions.
This technique can be as simple as putting "Readers, what do you think?" at the bottom of your post. You're not putting an obligation on your readers, you're just inviting them to share their thoughts.

3) I ask my readers to disagree with me--and tell me why.
I often use this technique if I am advocating a position on a post and I want to know if I've missed something. This is an excellent way to make sure you haven't made any logic errors, and it's an even better way to crowdsource your views and opinions on complex subjects. Few issues are as clear-cut as most of us would like to think, and it's extremely rare to find writers capable of grasping, much less embracing, multiple sides of any issue. Let your readers help you be more intellectually honest and rigorous, and you will set yourself apart from the rest of the writers out there.

4) I'll ask for direct reader feedback.
A while back at Casual Kitchen I asked readers for feedback on whether to continue my Retro Sundays posts, where I feature the best content from prior years at CK. I expected my readers to favor nuking this category of posts, but the reaction was exactly the opposite: they were 15-to-1 in support of continuing them! Don't just assume what your readers want. Instead, ask them. And then do what they say.

Readers, how do you invite your audience into your writing? What have I missed?