Give Readers What They Came to Get

Don't make readers dig for information
28 February 2011 Post Author:
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Travel writers necessarily have to think from two perspectives at the same time…

… that experienced perspective your readers have come to expect from you, and your reader’s perspective.

The former knows which bus to take to get to the train station and where to get it, while the latter needs more guidance.

Whether your readers are planning a trip to a place you wrote about or not, give your readers what they came to get.

Remember to think like a reader, not a writer.

One great example comes from my blog, Chris in South Korea. When I travel to a new place, event, or festival, I write down my own directions.

This sounds like common sense, but remember to write them down from the right perspective. You might know which building used to have the fancy coffee shop in it, but that non-obvious stuff will go over the head of others.

Let’s take an example from a recent post. I recently traveled to Wonjong Jangneung, a royal tomb from Korea’s Joseon Dynasty. These directions are found on Visit Korea, an official government tourism website:

- Take subway line 5 to Songjeong station. Go out exit 1 and take bus 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 60, 66, 69, or 1002. Get off at Gimpo City Hall Bus Station.
- Or take bus 9602 from in front of Sejong Art Center ( Gwanghwamun station, line 5, exit 8 ) or Gaehwasan station ( subway line 4, exit 2 ). Get off at Gimpo City Hall Bus Station.

At Gimpo City Hall Bus Station, transfer to Gimpo circle bus 1 or 2. Get off in front of Gimpo City Hall.

Yeah, not too helpful. Where do you go after you get off the bus? Where do you find this circle bus 1 or 2? Even after traveling there I never saw them. Even with the help of Google Maps, asking locals, and consulting street signs, I still had to take a taxi there.

I’ve made it a habit to write down directions from that second perspective. Here are my directions to the same place:

Directions to Wonjong Jangneung: Take line 5 of the Seoul subway system to Songjeong station. Take exit 1 to street level, then walk 5 meters to the first bus stop. Catch bus 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 60, 60-3, 66, 69, 88, or 631 to the ????? (sa-oo-sam-geo-ri) bus stop. Note it may also be named ???? (Gim-po shi-cheong, or Gimpo city hall) on the bus routes. This should take about 20 minutes.

Here’s where it gets tricky. Walk to the next intersection (same direction as the bus was going). Cross the road to your left, then walk straight for about 300 meters to a T. Straight ahead should be Gimpo’s City Hall; you’ll need to walk around it to the left. Follow the sidewalk for about 500 meters (about 10 minutes) up the hill to the tomb’s entrance.

See the difference? Note that I used the local language (helpful for showing a local if you get confused), and the transliteration of the Korean. The rest of the directions come from first-hand experience.

The moral of this story: write directions you can follow with no previous knowledge required.

But what do your readers want?

Ah, the million-dollar question. Your readers tune into your website or blog for many reasons. If you’re set up with Google Analytics, you already know quite a bit about your readership. Beyond the technical specifications, you know where they’re from, which pages / posts they’re tuning into, and which websites are referring readers your way. If your readers are living vicariously through you, they may not need the directions; instead, give them all five senses to experience. If your readers are in-country (as about half of mine are), you can bet some will be fascinated by your choice of travels!

Another technique I use on my blog is a poll. At the beginning of every month, I put up a new poll question for my wonderful readers. Actually, I put up two questions – one for my readers in Korea, and one for my readers around the world. Both questions are related to Korea or travel, but assume different things about that audience. At the end of the month, I’ll tabulate the numbers and write a post about it – an easy post at the beginning of the following month.

Let’s look at an example from last November. I asked the readers in Korea about their typical commute to work (knowing that most of my readers in Korea are English teachers). The results – 51% walk, 17% ride the bus, 13% take the subway, etc. – essentially confirmed what I knew from talking with friends.

What did I ask my other readers? What do you think of K-pop (Korean pop)? With 183 votes, the results were surprising:

  • I love it – there’s nothing else on my MP3 player – 51 (27%)
  • I like it – there’s a few songs I know by heart – 55 (30%)
  • It’s OK – not my favorite, but it’s still alright – 23 (12%)
  • Meh – not my thing – 39 (21%)
  • I haven’t had the chance to listen to it – 8 (4%)
  • Isn’t that a new band out of Seattle? – 7 (3%)

A few people might have chosen the silly answer just because, but for the most part there’s no reason to lie or exaggerate. These are the best kind of questions. Don’t think of them as sneaky ways to collect marketing / advertising data – that will alienate your readers – but fun ways to ask readers opinions. Polls are anonymous, easily integrated into any blog (Blogspot and WordPress have a poll system built right in), free to run, and take little time to set up. Run them high on your sidebar for a month at a time, and be sure to link back to your site for those that check out your RSS feed.

One final note

When it comes to pictures, recognize the balance between ‘standard’ and ‘artsy’.

While some of us love to get artsy with angles or exposures, it’s a good idea to have a couple straightforward pictures. Why? When your readers arrive at the destination, they can immediately confirm they’re in the right place because of the straightforward picture(s). Put yourself in the shoes of your reader – the last thing you want to find is that you’re in the wrong place. With your straightforward picture and the sight of their destination, they can breathe a sigh of relief – and have you to thank for it.

~ Chris

Are you giving readers what they want from your travel blog? Share your advice

4 Responses to “Give Readers What They Came to Get”

  1. Maria Staal
    Twitter:
    says:

    This is all very helpful information, Chris.
    Giving directions on a site is always a challence, but by using first-hand experience, readers can see what you’re talking about.
    When used in a narrative, directions can also become a way of describing whatever place you visited.

  2. Thanks Maria! Yes, you can definitely write directions in a narrative – it can add to the story if those details are noteworthy. Cheers and keep writing!

  3. Taavi says:

    Cheers Chris. Now I will think funny poll questions to but up to my new backpacking site. I think it will add great value.

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