Previously posted in The Good Point Collective
If you are an expert in your field, chances are you are often asked to explain your subject to the general public. If you’re like most people in this situation, you probably react with a shrug, say, “It’s complicated,” and then either hide your vast knowledge under layers of jargon, or disappear down the nearest hallway.
Who can blame you? Not everyone can be Neil DeGrasse Tyson on Cosmos sharing the wonders of the universe to an adoring public, or even Alton Brown on The Food Network explaining the science behind lemon meringue pie to hungry viewers.
Sometimes the demand on your expertise is simply “How do I silence my phone?” or “Is it okay to take this medication with alcohol?” or “How do I put this widget together?” And at that point, your client does not want to hear “It’s complicated,” especially after already spending 30 or more minutes online trying to find the answer — time that could have been saved if they had good, clear product information from the very beginning.
If writing out complex information is not high on your list of skills, a good editor can be your new best friend.
It Makes Sense to You, but Not Them
It may not seem that way at first. Let’s face it: You know your stuff, but writing it out is a bear! You probably dreaded the whole process, and when you finally saw the words coming together in sentences, you became very attached to those little formations.
Too attached. Now you don’t want to surrender or change a single sentence, whether anyone can comprehend them or not. Unfortunately, you have readers who need to understand you, or they won’t be back.
Comprehension Is Job #1
As an editor, my job is to try to think like all those different people who will be reading your final copy, and to advocate for each one of those readers, asking their questions in advance. At the same time, I need to know you — the human being writing the piece — well enough to send up a flare anytime it appears that your writing process has been taken over by zombies, robots, or Jane Austen. This is called “maintaining the author’s voice.”
For the most part, when I work with complicated subjects, I see myself as an interpreter or translator, moving between two types of English: the one spoken in your Expert’s World and the one spoken in the reader’s Real World. And quite often there are also a few dialects spoken in the Portal Realms in between.
To succeed, I must have at least a working knowledge of my author’s subject area, but it is equally important to understand the intended audience. Do they understand all the terminology? Should we offer them a glossary of terms, or should we use different language altogether?
Outline and Structure Before You Build
And it is absolutely essential for me to be able to offer my authors a variety of “bridge building” tools to clarify their topics and express key points. These include headings, callouts, illustrations, tables, charts, and graphs. Note: An “infographic” is an extreme version of this: heavy equipment, more than just a tool.
When I have done all of this correctly, I know you can happily take full credit for a great article or book, your readers will feel that they know you as a writer, and I can go on to the next project with a good recommendation.