The value of writing what you don’t know

Writing about topics with which you’re familiar can lead to jargon and insider talk, but if you’re forced to research a topic, you can stretch your muscles. That and more in this week’s roundup.

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Each week, Evan Peterson rounds up stories from across the Web that scribes of all stripes should check out. Writers are told repeatedly to write what they know. But writing what you don’t know is often what lends itself to good writing. Don’t fall prey to the curse of knowledge.

Also, ride a train, get outside and above all else, avoid the Internet when you’re trying to get some writing done:

Know your audience: One of the best traits you can have as a writer is ignorance about your topic. If you know little about your subject, you’re forced to research it and explain it in original language that probably no one has used before. Then enemy of this, of course, is high information, which invites jargon into your language, and can confuse readers. This “curse of knowledge” pervades so much of what we read that it costs the economy untold millions from people cleaning up shoddy writing in instruction manuals, election ballots, etc, according to Harvard professor Steven Pinker. Pinker’s suggestion is that it’s nearly impossible to know our audience as well as we think we do. Just putting yourself in someone else’s shoes doesn’t work, but Pinker does have some suggestions how to close the loop, like having someone from your target audience read a draft first. Writing is rewriting.

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