I’ll admit it: I was a know-it-all in grade school. I’d raise my hand for everything: why, yes, I could conjugate that verb, Señora. Yes, I know what the albatross signifies in Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Sure, I can recite the preamble to the Constitution– heck, I can do it backwards.
Students hated me. Teachers hated me. After reading that first paragraph, you probably hate me too.
Even as a (hopefully) reformed know-it-all, I don’t blame you. There’s a reason we all hate know-it-alls– in fact, there are three reasons: they’re smug, they’re boring, and they make us feel bad.
Now imagine a writer who comes across as a know-it-all: a smug, boring voice that alienates his readership.
Doesn’t exactly sound like a recipe for success, does it?
You’ve Got to be Knowledgable AND Likable
I have no interest in reading a writer who doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I want to read a guru, a maven, a maestro, a bona-fide expert – but what’s more, I want to relate to that guru/maven/maestro/bona-fide expert.
In short, I want what Copyblogger calls “the Likable Expert.”
Know who else was a likable expert?
Show me a person who doesn’t like Yoda and I’ll show you a person who has no heart.
I love Yoda. I love everything about him– his bizarre teaching methods, his oversized ears, his borderline dyslexia…I could go on and on.
But at the same time, I respect Yoda. I mean, “Do or do not– there is no try?” That’s deep. I want to learn more Yoda-isms. I want my own wise old Muppet sage to teach me life lessons in a extraterrestrial swamp.
In fact, if Yoda had a blog, I would subscribe in a heartbeat.
But if C3PO had a blog? No way. That’s not the kind of droid I’m looking for.
I wouldn’t even follow C3PO on Twitter. He’s a know-it-all. I don’t care about how many languages he speaks or his instant probability calculations or his incessant monologuing. I audibly cheered when Princess Leia found his off switch in The Empire Strikes Back.
So as a writer, how can you make sure you’re coming off as a likeable expert like Yoda and not a know-it-all droid?
1.) Embrace Your Quirks
Readers hate perfection. Why? Because if you pretend to be perfect, your readers know you’re lying. No one’s perfect. Do your readers a favor and drop the perfection act.
Show us you: your mistakes, your quirks, your bad habits, your corny jokes– all the things that make you human.
2.) Find a Sense of Humor
Anyone can write a professional article devoid of any humor. We want more! Crack jokes. Use puns. Embed a funny Youtube video, if that’s what works for you. If we wanted to read dry, humorless writing, we’d go read a textbook.
3.) Walls of Text Are Your Enemy
Sorry, writers, but the Internet has systematically destroyed your readers’ attention span. Those lengthy blocks of text are scaring your readers away faster than pop-up ads for diet pills. Break it up: subheadings, bullet points, engaging graphics, the works. If walls of text are your enemy, white space is your friend.
4.) Save the Research Papers for the Academic Journals
Footnotes? Really? What do you think the Internet is, The New England Journal of Medicine? Sorry, research nerds, but most people view the Internet as a place to farm virtual crops or watch videos of baby pandas sneezing.
Try to naturally embed your linked sources within your writing. If that’s not possible, simply list them at the end of your article. Lose the academic jargon– your audience doesn’t want to make trips to Thesaurus.com at the end of every sentence. Finally, loosen up– if you’re not enjoying what you write, your readers won’t enjoy it either.
5.) Come Down Off Your Pedestal and Talk to Your Readers
You’ve said your piece on the subject– now open up the subject for your readers. Do they have experience in the area? Do they have tips or tricks to share? What do they think? What do they feel? What do they respond to? Inviting discussion can take your blog from a one-man soap box to a full-fledged community.
Of course, now it’s time for me to follow my own advice, lest I become a pesky know-it-all writer about pesky know-it-all writers. Sound off! What are some of your know-it-all pet peeves? How do you avoid sounding like a know-it-all when you write?