What your audience need to do

 

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Welcome back to the blog for the third post in a three part series. We’ve been looking at three important questions to ask about your audience.

Click on the links to see the previous posts:

  1. Who are your audience?
  2. What do your audience need to know?

And now for our final question in this series:

3. What do your audience need to do?

Whatever your message is for your audience, you probably want them to take action in some way.

This will be fairly obvious if you’re writing instructions. Most of your message will be about spelling out what action to take:

To replace the calculator battery, use a screwdriver to remove the back panel. Take out the old battery and replace with a new one.

But it’s not just instructions that should have a clear ‘call to action’.

Let’s look at an example:

Dear resident,

We are delighted to announce that our waste management scheme will be coordinated by Wafflington Waste Solutions from 15th April 2019 onwards. As a result of this development, there are new timings and restrictions for bin collection in your area.

Kind regards,

Wafflington Town Council

This letter has failed to direct the reader to take action. The writer hasn’t told them when they need to put their bin out or where they can find out about the restrictions.

Without any clear instructions to follow, the reader can’t respond as the writer wants them to.

Let’s try again:

Dear resident,

We are delighted to announce that our waste management scheme will be coordinated by Wafflington Waste Solutions. 

From 15th April 2019 onwards, your waste will be collected on Monday mornings. Please put your green bin out in the designated area before 8am.

For full details of what kinds of waste you can dispose of in your green bin, please visit our website: http://www.wafflingtoncouncil/waste

Kind regards,

Wafflington Town Council

I’m not saying that this makes for gripping reading, but at least the reader knows what to do next.

Your message will only be a success if your readers respond.

So what do you want your reader to do?

Apply for a job at your company? Pay their outstanding bills? Visit your carpet shop?

Whatever it is, make sure you spell it out clearly and simply. Give a direct call to action and your audience will follow.

 

Like a boss

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When you’re writing instructions, don’t be afraid of being bossy. The most effective instructions often use direct language and imperative verbs (verbs which give a command).

For example:

Do not smoke in the building.

Wash your hands after feeding the animals.

These instructions are clear and helpful. The language is direct, the tone is authoritative and the message is easy to follow.

You might be worried about sounding demanding or rude if you used commands like these in your writing. Perhaps you’d be more likely to write something like this:

Please try to avoid smoking in the building.

We recommend that you wash your hands after feeding the animals.

The tone here is certainly softer, but the message just isn’t as powerful.

Here’s why you should use the imperative:

1.) You’re the boss

If you (or your organisation) are giving instructions, take charge with your words. Your reader needs to hear what you’ve got to say and follow the directions you give them. They won’t be surprised when you tell them what to do (or what not to do).

Of course, this doesn’t mean you can never say ‘please’. Use it sparingly though. You don’t want to sound as though you’re pleading with your reader.

For example, these instructions could do with being much more direct:

Please try to be considerate of other passengers on the bus wherever possible. We ask that you avoid putting your bags on the seats. If you could take all litter home with you, this would be greatly appreciated. We would like to advise you that the blue seats by the door are reserved for disabled people and the elderly. 

In an effort to be polite, the writer has made these instructions very long-winded and rather feeble. They don’t sound like authoritative commands, just the vain wishes of a rather desperate bus driver.

Let’s see if we can make some improvements:

Please be considerate of other passengers on the bus. Do not put your bags on the seats. Take all litter home with you. The blue seats by the door are reserved for disabled people and the elderly. 

2.) Direct instructions are safer instructions

Using direct commands usually makes your writing clearer. If you are giving your reader directions for their safety or wellbeing, don’t make them sound like mere suggestions. You don’t want your reader to treat them as optional.

For example:

If there is a fire, we recommend that you leave the building as soon as possible. You are advised to use the nearest fire exit. Please avoid taking any belongings with you.

Here, the writer sounds as though they’re afraid of sounding too bossy. In reality, the reader needs to be told with authority that they MUST leave the building in the event of a fire. In an attempt to sound polite, the writer has diluted the meaning and implied that leaving the building is only a ‘recommendation’. In this case, a more direct command is a safer choice:

If there is a fire, leave the building immediately. Use the nearest fire exit. Do not take anything with you.

 

Follow these simple tips and you’ll be giving instructions like a boss in no time.

Come back on Thursday to see this tip in action.