Feel like you might be confusing readers with your writing? Heck, I've had times when my writing even confuses myself. The entire point of writing, of course, is to convey an idea in as clear and concise a form as possible, right? But, sometimes you set out to make your readers think, and you just end up confusing them instead. So, how do you make your readers think without confusing them?
In an earlier version of this same post, I used the word confound instead of confuse. My word choice wasn't incorrect, but because "confound" isn't really a common word, I feel that it may have confused some people. That's why I decided that I should expand on what confound actually means. An examination of two definitions of confound will actually help illustrate the points I'm trying to make.
What Does it Mean to Confound Your Readers?
Confound is an interesting word because in confounding someone, you can do something both good and bad. One definition of "confound" is to "cause surprise or confusion, especially by acting against their expectations." Well, sometimes in writing you'll need to give your readers something they don't expect. But this is where this definition of "confound" gets interesting. The synonyms range from amaze or astonish to dumbfound or stagger. That is to say, a piece of writing that confounds may amaze some but dumbfound others. This isn't really what you want, is it?
The second definition of confound is to "mix up something with something else so that the individual elements become difficult to distinguish." That's to say, you may ramble on and mix things up to the point where you simply confuse people. You certainly don't want to confound your readers in this way.
However, it's not always a terrible thing to confound your readers if it leads to the benefit of making readers have to figure something out for themselves. If you're going to confound your readers for the purpose of making them think, though, you want to go into writing with that purpose.
How Do You Make Readers Think Without Confounding Them the Wrong Way?
Making people think is the core of writing in the first place. But, dumbfounding readers with your writing isn't a sound strategy. That's not to say that some readers won't be confused. You can't always help that. Still, remaining focused on your topic will help reduce confounding your readers for the wrong reason.
It's true that simply stating facts and opinions, however educated, isn't enough to hook readers. There's plenty written out there about infusing personality and "spice" into writing. But, the most important thing to do in writing is to expand one's horizons. You want to amaze not dumbfound and astonish not stagger.
This process is two-fold. First, you express an idea in a written, tangible form. Then, through the act of reading, you can identify and analyze what's been said to come to conclusions afterwards. But if a piece of writing leaves you with more questions than answers, that may not be a bad thing. Being a little confused is OK, as long as it leads the reader to actually think about what was written.
So, in this way, confounding readers may actually be a good thing. By having to think about something in more depth, readers will remember it better. Then, those ideas will have impact beyond the words on the page. Still, it needs to be a topic worth that level of reader commitment. Someone might be looking for a quick answer that could reasonably have one. In those cases, there's no point in confounding anyone.
But, there are times that connecting with the reader on a deeper level can be worth it. I've written before about whether web writers should produce more questions or answers. In that piece, I came to the conclusion that articles that engage the reader in a conversation of thought are strictly better than "free information." While it may not be as simple to digest, it's overall better for the reader. Other readers offered up the opinion that writing that really engages your mind is most rewarding. It's especially good when readers can connect with pieces emotionally. Those pieces tend to perform the best over the long term.
How Does Making Emotional Connections Through Writing Reduce Confusion?
People talk about trying to make emotional connections through writing all the time. But, this is actually incredibly hard to do when it comes to certain subjects. It's especially true with topics that many people are already confused about.
Writing through personal experience is the only way that many people are able to write on many subjects. The good news is that this is also true when it comes to readers looking for answers. People like to read about how other people have figured things out. It's good to go into a writing piece in mind that others will need to take something away from it. Make it worth their time to read.
Confounding readers may sound like a bad idea. Sure, sometimes you'll leave them confused. But as long as you stay on topic, connect with your readers on an emotional level, and ask the right questions, it may not be a bad thing.
If you feel the need to write something, and aren't sure exactly where to go with it, write it anyway. Let it sit for a bit, come back to it, and make the best writing out of it that you can. Chances are someone else will get what you were saying. The whole point of writing after all is to share your ideas. You may not even fully understand them yourself yet. But if you get readers interested in the ideas, you may start a valuable conversation that helps both yourself and many others.
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