What Are You Trying to Say?

It’s not as profound as you might hope, but I’ve figured out the most important question you can ask when you’re writing or editing someone’s work:

What are you trying to say?

For whatever reason, we often don’t write what we want to say. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read something and thought: “That’s a lot of words that don’t mean anything. I have no idea what I just read.”  Sometimes it happens because we think what we have to say is offensive. Sometimes we’re trying to hide bad news with pretty words. Sometimes we just don’t know what we want to say. No matter the reason, the result is always reader confusion and a lot of wasted words.

Nearly every time I’ve asked someone this question, they’ve been able to give me a coherent answer that makes a lot of sense. I always respond with, “Write that.” And their writing always improves. Simple question, impressive results.

What are you trying to say? Write that.

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3 thoughts on “What Are You Trying to Say?

  1. One of the most helpful bits of a critique or editing feedback is invariably a breakdown of what the piece is saying to the reader. So often, it doesn’t jive at all with that the writer meant.

    • That’s a good point.

      I should clarify that this is something I’ve learned from editing college papers, office communications, and promotional materials. In those instances, it’s really important to be clear because you need the reader to know exactly what your point is. Regardless of what the reader gets out of it, the piece is useless if the point wasn’t successfully conveyed.

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