The Curse of Knowledge -vs- The Knowledge Gap

Once upon a time… a few years ago… I met a brilliant writer with the initials CW, who taught me about something she called “The Curse of Knowledge.”

If you’re not sure what the the Curse of Knowledge is, then it will be my extreme pleasure to share it with you, as it was once shared with me.

My friend CW explained it to me thus…


The “Curse of Knowledge” is when you know quite a lot about a subject, and you assume that your audience (the people reading your copy) knows more about it than they actually do.

When this happens we tend to gloss over important details because we don’t want to bore our audience with elementary explanations.

Unfortunately, as a result we often leave out important proof elements… and blow the sale.


Imagine for a moment that you visit your doctor because you don’t feel well, and he tells you that you need a “corrective molecular treatment.”

“HOLY CRAP!” you exclaim. That sounds terrible! I think I’ll go get a second opinion!!!

“Relax,” he tells you… “it only means you have a vitamin B deficiency, and you’ll be cured with a single vitamin B shot.”


Now I know that was a silly example. But it’s not so different from when you know everything about your product, but your audience barely knows anything about it.

This, my dear copywriter, is a very important thing to understand.

Because if you talk too far above your readers level of understanding, you might come off sounding like an authority… But you’re more likely to send your reader away in search of a solution that actually makes sense to them.


Of course I’m not saying you should talk down to your audience, because if you treat them like they’re stupid then they’ll never buy anything from you. But we do need to consider the fact that they simply don’t know as much about your business as you do.

Now here’s the good news…

We can use this “Curse of Knowledge” to our advantage.

“How?” you ask…

By invoking curiosity through the curses twin brother… The “Knowledge Gap”


The Knowledge Gap I’m referring to is the distance between what your reader knows, and what they can gain from paying attention to you.

So how do we use this knowledge gap?

I’m glad I asked (and I’m doubly glad that you’re still here to listen to the answer)…


One way we can use this knowledge gap is by teasing our audience with just enough insight to let them taste our brilliance, while also letting them know that the full insight goes much deeper. And if they’re interested, they can join us and be elevated to a higher level of understanding.
(Wow, that was a pretty long winded paragraph, wasn’t it? How about we shorten it up a little)…

Shorter version: “Touching on a knowledge gap can make our audience curious to know more.” (There, that’s better)


Let’s take this classic headline as an example of how a few simple words can tap into this knowledge gap…

Do You Make These Mistakes In English?

The key factor in this headline is the word “These”.

Most people who read this headline will at least be curious to know “which” mistakes are you talking about? I know my English is pretty good, but perhaps I am making 1 or 2 specific errors? I should at least find out which mistakes this expert is talking about…


And there we have it… A knowledge gap has been exposed, and curiosity has been created.

Now imagine if the writer had been directed by his “Curse of Knowledge” while creating this headline, and had tried to use smart sounding words, like…

Do you use complex reflexive pronouns when a simple pronoun will suffice?


Well, the response to this headline would probably be more like “What the hell are you talking about? On second thought, I don’t care what you’re talking about because I’m not interested in a college level English class right now.”


So there’s an example of how an English tutor can choose to use either “a knowledge gap” for curiosity, or succumb to “the curse of knowledge” and scare most people away.

I say “most” people because it’s possible that the second example could appeal to a few academics. But anyone who understands the second headline would likely already know how to use a pronoun correctly.

So the second headline might get some kudos from academic peers… but the first one will help sell millions of dollars worth of English courses… Which one would you prefer for your sales copy?


Anyway, dear reader, I hope I’ve given you something to think about. And I trust when you sit down to write your copy, you’ll choose to use the “knowledge gap,” and avoid the “curse of knowledge” trap.

If you’d like to see more tidbits of copywriting acumen, just let me know. I have a reservoir of knowledge I’ve accumulated over the last 20+ years in this business. And I’d love to share it with you.


Until then,

Here’s to writing more persuasive copy… more often.

All the best,

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