What your audience need to know

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Welcome back to Write for Real People. Last time we looked at the first of three key questions to ask about your audience. They’re questions that can help you work out what you want to say. We started off simply with ‘Who are your audience?’.

This week we’re moving on to a second great question:

What do your audience need to know?

As a writer you have a message to communicate. Your job is to pass this information onto your readers. It sounds obvious, but it’s amazingly easy to miss out key details and leave your audience guessing.

Here’s an example of some information on a road sign:

There are road closures in this area for structural repairs. Diversions are available.

The writer has been quite stingy with the details here. Without good local knowledge, the reader might find it hard to understand this information. Which roads are closed and for how long? How do you find the diversion routes?

It would help if the writer could be more specific:

The Fortnal Bridge Road is closed from 1st to 30th May for structural repairs. For a diversion via the A21, please follow the yellow signs.

This is much more helpful.

Asking the question ‘What do the audience need to know?’ makes your writing efficient and effective.

Make a list of the key points you want to include in your writing and check them off as you go. Think of questions your readers might have about your topic and see if you can get all the answers in your written text.

Too much information?

There are some things that your audience just doesn’t need to know. As the writer, you have all the information, but only some of it will be important to your reader.

While some writers can be stingy with the details, others can be a little bit too generous…:

As announced on 18th March, the Fortnal Bridge Road has been closed by Wafflington Town Council from 1st to 30th May for structural repairs to the bridge’s left masonry joint and brickwork. For a diversion via the A21, please follow the yellow signs. The councillors and local highway authorities would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused.

If this information was in a bridge enthusiasts’ magazine, the high level of detail might be appropriate.

For most people, these extra facts add nothing. They actually make it harder to pick out the useful information.

Good writers do this filtering first, and only give the reader what they need to know.

This is why we started with ‘Who are your audience?’ as the first question. It all begins with using your imagination and getting into your readers’ heads.

Work out who they are and what they need to know, and the rest will come naturally.

 

Are you stingy or generous when it comes to details in your writing? Let me know in the comments below…

 

 

Getting to know your audience

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After revealing ‘My number #1 writing tip’ in my last post, I thought it would be helpful to explain a bit more about how to put it into practice. If you missed the tip, you might want to go back and read it here first.

Over the next three blogs, we’ll be looking at three great questions to ask about your audience. They’re questions that can help you work out what you want to say. After that, the rest is easy.

Let’s get started with the first (and most obvious) question:

‘Who are your audience?’

When you meet someone in person, the way you speak will depend on who they are and what kind of relationship you have with them.

For example, you might talk in quite a formal way in a meeting with a solicitor, but it would be weird to talk like that with your brother or sister.

It’s the same with writing. Identifying your audience (the people you’re writing for) is a really important step. The better you understand them, the more effective your writing will be.

To get to know your audience, spend some time thinking about

  • who exactly you’re writing for

Your audience might be a very specific group of people.

If you’re a school receptionist writing a termly newsletter, your audience is parents of children who attend that school.

With this audience in mind, you will probably want to write in a polite and friendly tone. You know that parents are usually busy so it will be best to keep the newsletter short and sweet.

Your audience might be a much broader group.

If you’re a pilates instructor and you’re writing an advert about a new Wednesday morning beginners’ class, your audience is anyone who’s free at that time in the local area. They’re likely to be new to pilates and might be looking for a way to do more exercise.

For this audience, you want to be enthusiastic and encouraging in the way you write. You want your readers to know they’re welcome to come along, whatever their previous experience.

  • what their wants and needs are

If you can provide your audience with what they might want or need, make that really clear.

School parents need to know about school events, like non-uniform days. There’s a lot to remember as a parent, so they’ll want a school newsletter that makes key dates easy to read.

The key dates for your diary this term are Thursday 17th June (sports day) and Tuesday 2nd July (parents’ evening).

Potential pilates class members might want to get fit and meet new people, so an advert that mentions this is going to get them interested straight away.

  • their relationship with you

Even if you don’t know your audience in person, they may already have assumptions or opinions about the company you work for or the kind of people you represent.

For example, some people might be a bit intimidated by the idea of doing pilates and assume that you’ll be just like their scary sports teacher from school. By writing in a friendly, approachable tone of voice, you can show them there’s nothing to worry about.

This gentle class for complete beginners will take you through the basics of pilates step by step. It’s a fun, relaxed environment and you don’t need any previous experience.

 

So, how well do you know your audience? A bit of empathy and imagination is all it takes to tailor your writing to your readers and get your message across effectively.

Next time we’ll be looking at another important question to help you write well for your audience. In 2019 I’ll be posting every other Monday, so come back on 4 February for the next Write for Real People instalment…