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…

 

 

Workshop: Cut it short

 

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In our last workshop of 2018, it’s time to try out some short sentences.

Here’s what we’re working with:

Cut it short

The writer has used some quite wordy sentences here. It’s a dense block of text, made up of three long sentences without much light and shade.

By breaking up some of those long sentences, we can bring a bit more rhythm to this piece of writing. We’re aiming for a mixture of short and long sentences.

We could also try rewriting some of the wordier parts altogether. Obviously, we don’t want to lose any of the information the writer has included. This is just about finding shorter ways to say the same things.

Let’s see what difference those tactics make:

Cut it short 2

With a few subtle changes, we’ve brought a sense of rhythm and pace back to the text. It’s easier and more interesting to read, and it no longer looks like a big clump of words on the page.

Short sentences for the win!

Look out for some festive posts on Write for Real People in the next few days. It’s nearly Christmas…

 

Cut it short

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Short sentences are great.

They’re quick. They’re punchy. They catch your reader’s eye.

Here are three top tips for using them in your writing:

Mix it up

Whatever you’re writing, short sentences can help to break up the text.

Great writers use a mixture of sentence lengths. Next time you’re reading a good article online or in the newspaper, look at the sentences. You’ll usually find a mixture of long, medium and short sentences.

You can use a short sentence after a longer one to underline your point or simply to add rhythm:

We believe that some students have been taking books out of the university library, removing the covers and placing them on a different book to return to the library. This is theft.

After your visit to Wafflington Cathedral we recommend that you cross the Southgate Bridge to Drawnbeck Hill. The view is spectacular.

 

Watch out for the runaway sentence

A ‘run on’ sentence is a sentence that runs on and on and on:

On Saturdays we come in at 8am so that the trampolines are set up in time for the Kids’ Club but on the first Friday of every month we have an evening session for primary school children so on those weeks we can leave the trampolines out overnight so we don’t need to come in until 8.30am.

Wow.

That is a monster sentence. Let’s try and break it up into more manageable chunks:

On most Saturdays we come in at 8am to set up the trampolines in time for the Kids’ Club.

However, on the first Friday of every month we have an evening session for primary school children. On those weeks we can leave the trampolines out overnight so we don’t need to come in until 8.30am.

Much better.

 

Divide and conquer

As a writer, it’s easy to get carried away. You might not be in the habit of writing ‘run on’ sentences, but perhaps you are rather partial to a sentence that (like this one) is somewhat longer than it really needs to be.

Here’s another example of a long sentence:

Although the first set of results might lead us to assume that Agro Fertiliser was the most effective product, the subsequent tests show that the RadiGrow Formula was in fact the standout product overall.

This is a perfectly fine sentence, but we can make it better. Let’s see if we can divide it up a bit.

The first set of results might lead us to assume that Agro Fertiliser was the most effective product.

However, the subsequent tests show that the RadiGrow Formula was in fact the standout product overall.

A very simple tweak gives us two shorter sentences. It’s quicker to read and easier to follow, but still quite formal. If you were writing a report, for example, this would work well.

But what if we wanted the sentences to be even shorter?

Look at the first set of results. Agro Fertiliser seems to be the most effective product.

However, the rest of the tests tell a different story.  It turns out that the RadiGrow Formula was the standout product overall.

With a little more work, we’ve ended up with four even shorter sentences. Very short sentences aren’t going to be appropriate in every context but they’re a great way to catch your reader’s attention and keep them reading.

 

Ready to start cutting down those sentences? Come back on Thursday for sentence trimming practice in the Write for Real People Workshop.