Your writing audience: why they need to be your best friends

Do you really know who you’re writing for?

Your writing audience: why they need to be your best friends

Do you really know who you’re writing for?

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you know who your audience – your readers are. Unless you’re one of them, you usually don’t.

You need to get to know your audience as well as you know yourself, so you know how your text will be received in real life, and what it will really mean to the recipients. If you know that, you can structure your business writing so that it will be as effective as possible, whether it’s intended to sell, motivate, inform, entertain, instruct, or whatever.

Not just what readers are, but also who they are

To say your readers consist of doctors or truck drivers or embroidery enthusiasts or techno-geeks tells you their titles, not who they are and where they’re coming from. You need to know more than this. You need to understand their problems, the pressures they experience, the politics they may have to deal with, their financial circumstances, and how they view the world generally. It’s only with that depth of knowledge that you will be able to formulate meaningful written material, from advertising copy to blog posts.

Will they understand what your business writing is talking about?

The reason for needing to know this may seem very obvious, but believe me much business writing sent out by companies is pitched too high or too low, because the communicators have made the wrong assumptions about the audience’s prior knowledge of the subject matter. You need to find out the truth.

Put yourself in the readers’ shoes

Just because your boss thinks the region’s newspaper editors are going to love the story of your company’s recently awarded contract to supply tractor components to the government of Bolivia, they won’t. Someone in your boss’s shoes thinks it’s a newsworthy event because he and the rest of the management team have spent six months working on it and it’s going to up the company’s share/stock value by a good 20 percent. Someone in a newspaper editor’s shoes sees it as just another bit of corporate bullshit that’s of no interest to anyone other than a handful of his/her readers. Learn to empathize realistically.

Are the people who read your business writing the final decision makers?

Sometimes people in your immediate audience are not in a position to make a decision single-handedly to act on your message – they may be the monkeys rather than the organ-grinders. There will be other people in the background – spouses, partners, colleagues, superiors, financial controllers or other unseen third parties – who may have some or even all of the say in the final decision. It’s important to write to the primary audience while bearing that secondary audience in mind.

What about business writing that needs to appeal to several readership groups?

This is tricky one, but here are three useful points to remember.

  • Whoever they are, they are all people, and people have a lot in common whether they’re growling teenagers with galloping hormones or elderly spinsters living in country cottages. If you create your message on the basis of appealing to human nature, you won’t go far wrong.
  • There is usually one audience group that is more important than the others, and often it’s possible to prioritize all the groups. You can then focus your message accordingly.
  • Writing for very diverse audience groups tends only to happen when the business writing is about something that has a very broad appeal anyway. Often the subject of your text is something very well known, or it’s made/produced/devised/offered by a well-known organization. In this case you can depend on established brand values and not have to explain all that much to your readers, which allows your message to be simpler and more relevant to a wide spread of recipients.

When did you last check who your audience consists of?

(Adapted from “How To Write Winning Non-fiction” by Suzan St Maur: click here.)

More ways to make your audience love you

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well

“Business Writing Made Easy…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

photo credit: LISgirl via photopin cc

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