There are three important aspects of reading which writers
must keep in mind:
- The Reading Process
- Interpretive Community
The Reading Process
Reading is a complex constructive process involving
both visual and non-visual information—what's
in front of the eyes and what's behind them. The
essential skill all competent readers learn is to
depend on their eyes as little as possible. Of course,
your eyes have a role to play in reading, but visual
information is not enough in itself. You bring
to any encounter with written text your understanding
of the particular language a text is written in,
both word meanings and its grammatical structure,
as well as as your familiarity with the subject
matter, your experience with reading, and especially
what you know about reading different kinds of
Because reading is inherently dependent on what
readers know, there can be no "literal" meaning
of any text—there will be as many meanings
as there are readers; no one of them is literal.
When a group of readers has common knowledge, their
interpretations of a particular text will converge,
but there is no guarantee that all readers will
construct the same meaning.
What's important for technical writers to judge
is the breadth of knowledge about the subject their
readers are likely to have. If the audience is large,
it's unrealistic to expect all of your readers to
come to your text with the same background. Realize
there are likely to be gaps; do your best to anticipate
What works in your favour is the interpretive community—the
potential shared meaning of a group of professional
readers. Your sense of what your interpretive community
is likely to know allows you to make some assumptions
as you write.
But remember, there is no guarantee any particular
reader shares your interpretive community. There
is no way you can write a text that makes a particular
interpretation a certainty! So try out your writing
on both naive and expert readers.
What's in any particular text itself can only hint
at the inferential meaning a reader is invited to
make. To participate fully in reading any text requires
a sense of intertextuality. Readers
relate the current piece they're reading to other
texts they've read on the same subject, as well
as connecting information from things they've read
on related subjects.
Readers must be familiar in advance not only with
the general content, but have some particular background
knowledge of the specific domain of the text. This
is a key aspect of the transactional nature of reading
along with technical, cultural, and linguistic contexts
and the more widely read the audience, the more
likely they will make sense of your writing—although
not necessarily the sense you intend them to make.
To the extent that the writer and reader share
such contexts, there will be convergence of interpretation.
Texts are not transparent; they don't directly reveal
their meaning. Readers construct meaning based on
a large number of factors. Writers have to remember
reading is a process of making inferences.