I heard the term empathetic writing yesterday while talking with two content designers Louise Stone and Lil Boyce. Louise described empathetic writing as the capacity to write with sensitivity keeping in mind the many perspectives of many different audiences. Lil then suggested I look at a blog post by content strategy consultant Sara Wachter-Boettcher.
In the post Wachter-Boettcher writes:
Oftentimes I think our interfaces are only thinking about those moments of joy and freshness. The new relationships, the new babies, the new jobs—the stuff that we’re congratulating one another for. We have shiny, happy faces that go into shiny, happy wireframes that go into shiny, happy designs. So when we talk about writing and designing for humans, what I want to talk more about is writing and designing for whole humans, for people who are hard to categorize, for people who are going through any number of internal struggles, for people who have conflicted and complicated responses to the things that we make.
A little bit after my father died in December 1995 my mother called to cancel Dad’s cable TV subscription. When the operator asked why she was cancelling the service my mother said it was because her husband (who used the subscription) had died. There was a very long pause, and then the operator said, “Oh, I don’t have a category for that”.
I’m interested in these ideas and situations for two reasons.
First, I suspect that for the most part people doing academic writing pay little attention to the experience or situations of the reader(s) of their work. It is writing that is implicitly saying, “I’ve got something to say and I expect you to be listening/reading regardless”. I imagine academic writing would be totally different if its authors were to write sympathetically with a very broad audience in mind.
Second, as a choreographer, I wonder to what extent I might empathise more with the people who are watching the work I present. How might I imagine and take into account their differences, their experiences, their curiosities? I can never know but perhaps in the act of imagining them—and not making assumptions about them—the work will be changed.