From surveys to blogs, and from email marketing to sales, knowing your audience is critical.
In the previous installment of “Know Your Audience,” we pondered the question, “Who am I writing for?” both in terms of a writer’s ideal/intended audience and the actual audience of readers consuming their work, two groups that may not (but probably will) overlap. Today we will explore two more basic but important questions: What am I writing and why am I writing it?
Before moving into the meat of things, a quick side note: While this list is numbered, it’s not meant to be a hierarchy. When I’m preparing to write, questions 1, 2, and 3 are largely concurrent in my mind. With experience over time, considering these questions has become less conscious and deliberate for me than the apparently step-by-step process outlined here.
As obvious as these first three questions seem, it is vital to have a picture of the audience in mind and an idea of the effect your work will have on them when trying to establish effective communication and craft engaging work. On to the questions!
2) What am I writing?
Outside of purely creative work, the actual form of writing in any given circumstance may be obvious—an email is probably the quickest and easiest way to send a document to a coworker, for example—or even proscribed. The teacher wants the assignment to look a certain way. The company requires all memos to fit a certain format. But, we’re not going to dwell on those kinds of factors, the ones that lie beyond our control. Rather, this post is all about the choices that you can make to reach your audience in the most effective way possible.
We are fortunately given a lot of freedom in this blog to choose the form that we think best fits the message we are trying to convey. When you do have a choice like this, it’s a good idea to at least think through the possibilities available to you, taking the audience into consideration. If you have time and inclination, experimenting with different forms can help to discover new ways to say what you want to say. Obviously, some forms are more appropriate than others, so it’s important to factor in context; it’s probably not the best idea to send a cover letter to a potential employer in haiku form, for example, unless you’ve done your research and that particular company is cool like that. Likewise, sending a shopping list in place of a love letter probably won’t leave your significant other feeling very romantic, even if you include whipped cream and strawberries on that list.
In situations where you have a choice in deciding the best form to fit your message, it’s most often worth your time to at least think through the options.
3) Why am I writing?
Put another way: What is my purpose for writing? Especially in the business world, writing is almost always done in service of some specific aim or goal, from simply conveying information via email about, say, your company’s new leave policy, to soliciting feedback in the form of an employee survey, to initiating a back-and-forth discussion on Slack about the best name for a new marketing campaign. Each of these purposes would require a unique approach and form, but underlying them all is the desire to effectively reach the audience and evoke the desired response. The leave email wants the reader to learn new information and apply it correctly next time it is needed. The survey wants employees to write open, honest, thoughtful comments. The Slack chat message wants contributors to collaborate in an insightful, respectful manner.
The general purpose for this blog is to serve as a platform to engage with readers on a variety of topics relevant to the company’s ethos, values and interests. The primary purpose of this particular post is to educate and inform readers about writing for an audience, but with posts like this one, we also hope to attract customers and employees who want to learn and engage on a meaningful level, as well as reinforce best practices for internal employees.
All of that is to say that this post is a part of giving a human face and voice to a company that many might know only in digital form.
Having a strong idea of your purpose before starting to write allows you to make conscious choices in crafting your work to suit and engage your particular audience. We’ll talk more specifically about those choices—in terms of tone, voice, and context—next time.