What does ‘write for your audience’ mean?

What does writing for your audience mean in business writing

By Mary Morel | May 2016

A basic catchcry of business-writing articles and training is ‘write for your audience’. Yet what does this mean in practice?

I don’t think this is as straightforward as it sounds and I am going to look at this question from my own experience of:

  • Teaching people how to write better board papers
  • Writing my e-newsletter on writing and grammar

Writing better board papers

When I am conducting in-house training on board papers, I always include a section on the board and I ask the company secretary to talk to the group about the board. Company secretaries know the board well and their comments add colour to the bland bios on the website.

The emphasis in the discussion is on the directors’ skill set, what sort of questions they are likely to ask, and how long they have been on the board. Their length of service has a bearing on how much they know about the organisation.

This session is always well-received, but just learning more about the directors is not enough to write for them. Writers also need to have an understanding of the board’s role and the difference between governance and operations.

Writers have to be constantly questioning what they write to make sure that it is at the right level and that they have provided an appropriate amount of detail to support their key messages.

This is not easy. The challenge is always what to put in and what to leave out.

Writing an e-newsletter on writing and grammar

Looking at this topic from a more personal angle, I have been writing an e-newsletter about writing and grammar for years. Initially I signed up anyone from any training event I facilitated, but today people just subscribe online. I don’t ask for any information other than an email address because that’s the way I started and I figure that everyone knows an e-newsletter is not a personal email.

I have recently read a couple of blogs about writing for your audience and both said you must target your writing for a specific audience and not write for the world. One site I looked at gave me more than 20 questions to ask myself, such as where does my target group hang out? Another website told me to imagine a specific individual from my target group and imagine that I am writing to that person.

I don’t know where my e-newsletter readers hang out, and I don’t write with anyone in mind. I now have subscribers worldwide and most provide a Gmail or Yahoo address so I have no idea where they work. The one thing that unites them is an interest in grammar and writing.

I assume that people subscribe to my e-newsletter because:

  • They’re interested in grammar and writing and just enjoy reading stuff about writing – they are never likely to become a client or customer. Some enjoy disagreeing with me! I like reading about writing and grammar too, so I feel an affinity with these readers.
  • Others want to improve their knowledge of writing and grammar and I hope my e-newsletter helps them. With these people in mind, I try and keep my grammar jargon to a minimum. This is sometimes difficult.

When I write my e-newsletter, I try to provide a range of short items. Not every item will appeal to everyone, but I hope that there is enough of interest to keep most people reading and subscribing, and encourage some to buy my online courses!

If you don’t yet subscribe to my newsletter, read the latest issue.

How do you write for your audience?

Based on the two different types of writing I’ve discussed, it seems to me that each type of writing requires a different approach.

Yes, you do have to write for your audience, but you have to keep other factors in mind as well, such as your audience’s role and your assumptions about people’s knowledge.

I’d be interested to hear how you approach writing for your different audiences.