Writing Tip Wednesday: Audience

Yes, I know it’s Thursday. But “Writing Tip Thursday” just doesn’t sound as good.

This week’s tip is about your audience—the people who are going to read what you’re working on. No matter what type of writing you’re doing, you have an audience. Maybe it’s middle age women, college professors, your mom, department colleagues, or yourself. There’s endless debate about whether you should write for your audience or for yourself, but the fact remains that you need to at least take your audience into consideration—it’ll help you determine the length, vocabulary, and even the examples you should use.

Here are a few key questions to ask about your audience and the reasons you need to ask them.

How much does my audience already know about the topic?
Giving your readers information they already have is a waste of their time and yours. If your audience is mostly sports enthusiasts, don’t spend half of your article explaining the rules of basketball. If your audience is engineers, don’t devote a whole paragraph to explaining basic algebraic theory. If your audience is public school teachers, don’t explain why ADD is a problem in the classroom (just tell them what to do about it!).

Once you figure out what they already know, figure out what they don’t know. Spend your time on that.

What’s the background/demographic of my audience?
Make sure you don’t alienate your readers by writing for a different audience. If you’re creating a brochure for an outreach ministry to Muslims, don’t fill it with churchy words they won’t understand. If you’re writing an article about maintaining friendships as a retiree, don’t spend a lot of time talking about Facebook. If you’re writing for someone who’s new to the English language, don’t tell them it’s a “toss-up” or that a financial mistake could cost them “an arm and a leg.” (Here’s a list of idioms that could keep you busy for quite awhile.)

And be careful about the connotations of your words. Using the word “thong” when you’re talking about children wearing flip-flops could cause a problem (true story!).

Why is my audience reading my piece? How will they use what they’re reading?
Are they looking for something to do? Are they hoping to be entertained? Do they want advice? Asking these questions will help you figure out what information to include and what to leave out. If you’re reviewing a restaurant for a foodie website, be sure to tell people what’s good on the menu. If you’re writing about animal rights for Animal Times Magazine, it’s probably not wise to crack a joke about PETA standing for “People Eating Tasty Animals.” Just a suggestion.

Do you have other questions to add to the list? Do you have a funny story? I’d love to hear them!

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