I took part in some training recently that was all about how we teach children to read.
The trainer talked about the difference in vocabulary in 7year olds, which can range from around 4000 words to around 8000 words. This throws up the difficulty in the amount of information we expect children to know to make sense of the text they are reading.
Reading won’t be much fun if every word or every other word is beyond comprehension. Reading won’t be much fun if you can make the words sound right, but then you have no idea what it all means when you put it together. Reading won’t be much fun if you know one meaning of a word, but you don’t have the experience of context to make sense of it all.
Reading won’t be fun, if we can’t understand it.
The trainer asked us to consider how much we want the reader to infer from a statement like ‘Thieves operate in this area’. How much knowledge do we expect someone to have before they even come to read this statement? For an adult on their commute, this expectation seems reasonable. For a 7 year old reading a story, perhaps less so.
Or, how do we know whether a word such as ‘mean’, or ‘table’, or ‘face’ is meant mathematically or otherwise. And how we can expect children to know. What help do we provide to show context? What help to we provide for the reader to understand our text?
This led me to thinking about how we communicate our ideas between businesses. How do we tell funders what we want to do with their money? How do we tell stakeholders about a necessary change in direction? How do we tell journalists about a campaign we are launching? How do we run our campaigns?
There are two main questions that this throws up.
- How do we make it interesting, quicker?
- How do we know people understand what we mean?
We cannot presume that because we find something interesting, that someone else will do, or will have the time to. Funders give us word count limits for a reason. CVs should only be 2 sides for a reason, journalists don’t read 5 page press releases for a reason.
We need to question our text, and we need to train ourselves to write shorter copy when necessary.
Secondly, we need to understand the audiences we are speaking to and provide clarity when possible. Regional differences or diversity of experiences to name just two examples will mean different people read the text differently. Any time we expect someone to infer information from our text, we need to ask ourselves; ‘Is this reasonable?’