Using Test Readers

Once you’ve drafted a piece, or even a piece of a piece, you can’t really see it as your readers will read it. Things in your head interfere. You read one of your sentences, and it makes perfect sense to you, but’s that’s because of supplementary information in your head. Your readers won’t have that information to help them unless you type it. So how can you read your finished draft with innocent eyes? You can’t; you need a test reader.

I once had a brilliant assistant, Bobbie Alcina, at the Poynter Institute. She read all my drafts and simply marked what she didn’t understand. I didn’t want her to edit the piece or even like it. I just wanted her to spot holes and lapses of clarity. She was a perfect test reader because she didn’t know the subjects I wrote about.

If a test reader who doesn’t know the material can understand your piece, you probably do too. And your readers will too.

Most writers use their editor as the test reader. That’s what they’re for, to represent the readers’ need to understand. But editors usually don’t read drafts, and they know too much. They’re not the general reader you’re after.

Some test readers do need to know a lot about the subject. For instance, if you’re writing a cookbook, you need a test reader who can cook, someone to test the recipes to see if they work. You might need expert test readers in medical or military writing, for example.

Where do you get such test readers? You tap spouses, friends, clients, sources, and especially other writers. You can take turns helping each other. Smart writers recruit a circle of helpers.

Published in: on January 4, 2009 at 8:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

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