Writing for your audience

Before you start to write, one of the first things you should think about is who your audience is. Who are you writing your document for? Who do you want to read it, and what are their needs?

Who

Ask yourself if you’re writing for professionals, or for the public.

If you’re an engineer, and you’re writing a document for your peers (say to be published in an industry newsletter), you’re likely to write very differently than if your audience was clients who have no knowledge of engineering.

Likewise, if you’re sending a quick email to a colleague confirming some details, you’re going to be less formal than if you’re emailing your bank manager, or if you’re submitting a quote or job application by email.

Think about who you’re writing for – are they your professional peers, members of the public, children, or someone else?

What

What does your audience already know about this subject? Are they a special interest group who already knows a bit about this subject, or are they completely new to this topic?

Does your audience understand the terminology used in this subject, or will you need to explain it? Would it make sense to use simpler language to explain the ideas you’re communicating?

Again, the engineer in the example above will use more technical language when writing for other engineers, but explain complex concepts in simpler terms for laypeople. There’s a level of knowledge they’ll assume is present in one group, and absent in the other.

Why

Why are members of your intended audience going to read what you’ve written? What do they want to know? How much information do they need, and in how much detail?

Say you’re writing about building regulations. Someone who wants to know what regulations they need to follow for their new house or extension is going to need much more detailed information than someone who’s wondering why the houses in the new subdivision at the other end of town have a particular feature on them. The first person is going to know precise details; the second person might be happy to know that it’s because of Regulation X, which deals with ensuring buildings are watertight.

Summary

It really pays to think about who you’re writing for before you begin writing; it helps you to focus what you want to say, and how you need to say it so that your audience will understand you, or won’t be bored or confused.

Questions to ask yourself before you start writing are:

  1. Who am I writing for?
  2. What will they already know? How does that affect how and what I write?
  3. Why are they reading this? What questions do I want to help them answer, and what level of detail do I need to include?

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