The Writer’s Checklist for Empathizing with Readers

Writer's checklist

The first thing a reader wants when they approach your writing is to feel that you care how they experience your words. Using a writer’s checklist will help ensure you don’t forget the audience you’re writing for.

If we want the reader to spend their precious time with our words, it’s our job as writers to give them good reasons to follow us on our written journey. Every article we write is a sales pitch.

We make them feel welcome to our work by showing them from the first sentence that we empathize with their reading experience. We may believe we’re being generous simply by sharing our thoughts. Especially if we’ve invested a lot of self-knowledge and philosophy into our work. Generosity comes not only in the function of the words we use, however, but also in their form.

How do we provide the best value we’re capable of and earn the reader’s attention and trust? Here’s a ten-point writer’s checklist to help us keep the reader in mind every time we publish.

10-Point Writer’s Checklist for Expressing Empathy

  1. Promise value right away in the headline. Does the headline tell the reader what they can expect to get if they spend time reading the article. Does the body of the article deliver on that promise?
  2. Generate curiosity in the headline. Does it attempt to connect with the reader at their point of interest –  not yours? Your separate points of interest may converge, but they may not. Imagine your ideal reader and put them first, if only as an exercise in your own curiosity. How do you think they may experience the first words or your article? Would they find it intriguing and inviting?
  3. Us an attractive or interesting cover photo. A good image serves several purposes. It can attract attention, generate emotion, add sensory experience to your article, as well as help place your writing in the reader’s memory.
  4. Deliver value right away in the lead paragraph. When you address the interest of the reader from the beginning, you give them an immediate experience of empathy. If they have to read through several paragraphs of you warming up before you get to the point, they experience it as evidence that you don’t see them or respect their time. The thoughts that nudge us as writers to fill the blank page are often the first well-known facts that pop into our heads. There’s likely a more interesting or surprising way to draw the reader in.
  5. Keep your words simple and your paragraphs short. Does the article provide white space and breathing room? Or does it confront the reader with long, intimidating walls of text full of complex words? It’s not about dumbing your writing down. It’s about speaking the truth in plain language.
  6. Write sentences that are short, clear, and conversational. Variation in sentence length provides interest. We want to avoid tiring the reader with too many long sentences. This requires them to keep too much information in their head and work harder to follow what we mean. We want their energy to be free to absorb our thoughts.
  7. Format text so it lends itself to scanning and further study. Subheadings, bullet points, numbering, links and citations, and other ways of organizing your information present more ways for you to show respect to your reader. They can easily scan what you’ve written and then decide if they want to invest their time reading every word.
  8. Treat the reader like an equal. If you’re talking down or preaching  –  a voice that’s sometimes easy to get into for legitimate reasons  –  you may be unconsciously imagining the wrong audience. I sometimes find myself writing to convince people who won’t want to listen. When I notice myself doing this, I make a deliberate choice to refocus. Then I address those who will show interest in what I have to say.
  9. Present a logical conclusion. Ask yourself whether your argument or any part of it self-destructs. This may seem a bit complicated to anyone not used to thinking like a philosopher. Here’s an example: If you say, “There’s no such thing as truth,” you are making a statement of truth. You prove the sentence wrong merely by uttering it. Once you recognize this type of thinking, it becomes easier to edit and rewrite. You also grow more confident in your own thought processes, and in your writing, as a consequence.
  10. Finally, make it clear what you want the reader to do. If you didn’t want the reader to do something  –  feel something, think about something, or take some kind of action –  you wouldn’t be writing. You may or may not want to give an explicit call to action, but thinking about your objective will help you direct and focus your topic.

Putting the Reader First

The suggestions in this writer’s checklist can be challenging for a writer of any experience. You don’t have to follow them all every time you write. But thinking about them can help you get out of your own head. Worthwhile writing always puts the reader first. It helps them feel more willing to welcome you into their head. Which is the place you hope your thoughts will go when you hit publish.