Feel like you might be confusing readers with your writing? The entire point of writing, of course, is to convey an idea in as clear and concise a form as possible. But, sometimes you set out to make your readers think, and you just end up confusing them instead. So, how do you make your readers think without confusing them?
In an earlier version of this same article, I used the word confound instead of confuse. While my word choice may have been correct, because “confound” isn’t really a common word, I feel that it may have confused some people. That’s why I decided that I should expand on what the word confound actually means. An examination of two definitions of confound should help illustrate the points I’m trying to make.
What Does it Mean to Confound Your Readers?
Confound is an interesting word because in confounding someone, you can do something both good and bad. One definition of “confound” is to “cause surprise or confusion, especially by acting against their expectations.” Well, sometimes in writing you’ll need to give your readers something they don’t expect.
But, this is where this definition of “confound” gets interesting. The synonyms for this verb range from amaze or astonish to dumbfound or stagger. That is to say, a piece of writing that confounds may amaze some, but dumbfound others.
The second definition of confound is to “mix up something with something else so that the individual elements become difficult to distinguish.” That’s to say, you may ramble on and mix things up to the point where you simply confuse people. You certainly don’t want to confound your readers in this way.
However, it’s not always a terrible thing to confound your readers if it leads to the benefit of making readers have to figure something out for themselves. If you’re going to confound your readers for the purpose of making them think, though, you need to go into writing with that purpose.
How Do You Make Readers Think Without Confusing Them Too Much?
Making people think is the core of writing in the first place. But, dumbfounding readers with your writing isn’t a sound strategy. That’s not to say that some readers won’t be confused no matter how briefly and clearly you try to state your piece. Still, remaining focused on your topic will help reduce confusing your readers for the wrong reason.
It’s true that simply stating facts and opinions isn’t enough to hook readers no matter how educated they may be. There’s plenty written out there about infusing personality and “spice” into writing. But, the most important thing to do in writing is to expand one’s horizons. You want to amaze readers, not dumbfound them; you want to astonish them, not stagger them.
The process of avoiding confusion with your writing is two-fold. First, you need to express your idea in a written, tangible form. Then, through the act of reading, readers can identify and analyze what’s been said to come to their own conclusions afterwards. But, if a piece of writing leaves readers with more questions than answers, that may not be a bad thing. Leaving readers perhaps a little confused is OK, as long as it leads the reader to actually think about what was written.
So, in this way, confounding readers to a point may actually be a good thing. By having to think about something in more depth, readers will remember it better. Then, those ideas will have impact beyond the words on the page. Still, the topic itself must be worth that level of reader commitment. Someone might be looking for a quick answer that could reasonably have one. In those cases, there’s no point in confusing anyone and taking them down a rabbit hole.
But, there are times that connecting with the reader on a deeper level can be worth it. I’ve written before about whether web writers should produce more questions or answers. I came to the conclusion that articles that engage the reader in a conversation of thought are strictly better than “free information.” While it may not be as simple to digest, it’s overall better for the reader’s understanding of the topic.
Other readers of that same article offered up the opinion that writing that really engages your mind is most rewarding. However, it’s even better when readers can connect with your writing emotionally. Those pieces which are engaging both mentally and emotionally tend to perform the best over the long term.
How Does Making Emotional Connections Through Writing Reduce Confusion?
People talk about trying to make emotional connections through writing all the time. But, this is actually incredibly hard to do when it comes to certain subjects. It’s especially true with topics that many people are already confused about.
Writing through personal experience is the only way that many people are able to write on many subjects. Fortunately, this is also true when it comes to readers looking for answers. People like to read about how other people have figured things out. It’s good to go into a writing piece in mind that others will need to take something away from it. Of course, make it worth their time to read; don’t just give them anecdotal fluff.
Good writing should do the job of taking readers’ confusion and turning it to some sort of understanding. As long as you stay on topic, connect with your readers on an emotional level, and ask the right questions, you’re onto something.
If you feel the need to write something, and aren’t sure exactly where to go with it, write it anyway. Let it sit for a bit, come back to it, and make the best writing out of it that you can. Chances are someone else will get what you were saying. After all, the whole point of writing is to share your ideas. You may not even fully understand what you’re writing about yourself just yet. But, if you get readers interested in the ideas, you may start a valuable conversation that helps both yourself and many others.