Six Things Readers Need: Context

A waterfront reading nook. I want one.When I read, I have to have some sort of context. I’m not content reading a smattering of quotations, although I might if that is the context of a particular article for a particular reason. In general, though, I need to know who said the quote, and I need to know the context for the quote. Without those two things, a quote can be made to say anything, and that’s dangerous. Movements – religious, political, et cetera – can be based on a quotation taken out of context.

My readers aren’t any different. They need context. They possibly crave it. It gives them a way to link between what they read and their own knowledge and experiences. It is my responsibility to create that context, and I can create it in a variety of ways. For instance, I can tell a story or relate an incident. I can share my perspective on a particular subject, much as I did in the opening paragraph. Such a context begins with specifics and moves toward generalities; however, I could use the opposite strategy. I could begin with the idea that context is important then cite specific examples in order to prove my point.

I then focus on the structure of my work. I evaluate which parts are essential and non-essential and indicate those evaluations via punctuation and tone. I consider using parallel structures or repeating key words or phrases. Those things add to the context. They let the reader know my opinion. They indicate how a reader should respond to my writing, and what I expect my readers to do.

For instance, some of the bloggers I follow occasionally write about the Blue Key Campaign and encourage people to purchase blue keys or to take other actions in order to aid refugees. The key to getting the readers to respond positively and to purchase blue keys is based almost solely on context. The bloggers share a story. They provide a call to action. They cater to their readers’ desires to help another person. In so doing, they create the link, the context, that allows readers to bridge the gap between what they read and their own knowledge and experiences.