In addition to asking, “What do I want to accomplish with my writing?” you should also ask, “Who am I talking to and what are their needs?” Your consideration of this question will ensure that you are also addressing the second aspect of good writing—audience.
So who is your audience? The answer to that question is simple—it is the person or group of people you are writing for.
Sounds simple enough, right? However simple it sounds, failing to address your audience or even simply misjudging your audience could lead to many failures in communication.
What can you do to better address your audience in your writing? Here are just a few simple steps you can take:
Identify your Audience Correctly
If you don’t know who you are writing to, you will not know what their needs and expectations are. To illustrate, consider the following example shared in an article published by the University of Maryland:
Odds are, the version of the story you would tell each of these different audiences would be slightly (or perhaps even vastly) different. Perhaps with your friends, you would draw out certain dramatic moments a little more—dramatic moments you might leave out of the version you tell the insurance company because that audience is usually more concerned with the “facts” of the event than the “feelings” surrounding them.
It is important to note that these differences don't make any version of that same event less important or less real—those differences are simply an acknowledgement of how those two audiences are different and the ways those differences can and should impact what information is shared.
Determine What Your Audience Needs
Equally as important as correctly identifying your audience is the need for you to identify what your audience needs from you. You can do this by asking yourself a few simple questions:
- In what format would this group most likely be receiving this information? (For instance, a magazine, an email, a text message, an academic essay, a face-to-face interchange)
- What level of previous knowledge does this group likely have on the topic I will be discussing? (For instance, a lot of knowledge, a little bit, etc.)
- What is motivating my audience to read my work? (For instance, to learn something new, to be entertained, to become more informed, to improve performance in a specific area, to get an expert opinion on a best approach, to be motivated to change, etc.)
By asking yourself these simple questions before writing, you are greatly reducing your chances of misjudging your audience in your writing. After all, how might you change your approach to writing if, through this exercise, you discovered that the information you wish to share to your specific audience would be best communicated in the following: (1) an essay, (2) to an audience with limited knowledge on your topic, and (3) with a desire to become more informed about a specific topic?
Ponder and Record
- How much additional research might you do to strengthen the supporting details of your writing depending on the background knowledge of your audience?
- Should you write a persuasive essay if you discover your audience simply wants to know more about a topic, but not necessarily your opinion on it? Why or why not?