Would you walk into a room of 5-year-olds and begin discussing the benefits of life insurance? Of course, you wouldn’t. If you were a salesperson, you might even get fired for such a charade. Why?
Were you being truthful about your product? Yes. Were you presenting the material in a professional manner? Yes. Were you knowledgeable about the terms and conditions of your policies? Yes. Did you present the material to your target audience? No.
Now go back and make your sales pitch to the parents of these same 5-year-olds. They, however, might find your product particularly appealing. The result: a fat commission for you.
Writing follows these same guidelines. Address the wrong audience, and you lose. Hit your target group and win — whether it be a good grade, financial gain, or merely the ability to satisfy and entertain the reader.
Knowing your audience affects many facets of your essay writing. Your audience helps you determine whether you write informally or adhere to a formal style, whether you try to persuade or inform, and the amount of business-related jargon you use in the piece.
The best way to successfully address your audience is first to create an outline by answering a series of questions.
What is my message? Before you can convey your ideas, you have to know your purpose. Without one, you can wander aimlessly for several paragraphs, which accomplishes nothing for you or your readers. This is why so many English and composition teachers have students begin a research paper by writing a thesis statement. The rest of the piece hinges on this objective. You want it to provide a firm foundation for your information, not a weak one.
To begin, try to narrow down your message. Writers can get quickly overwhelmed when they try to squeeze too much information into one short article, letter or brochure. If you are overwhelmed in writing, how much more so will your readers be? Start with the basics. Are you introducing a new product or service, or are you trying to sell yourself in a resume or cover letter? If you are introducing a new product, know details about what you are selling, as well as how it is different/better than your competitor’s. Your readers will know about other products on the market, and ignorance on your part will quickly lose their respect and attention. In resumes, be as specific as possible. If you are looking for a teaching job, state your preferred grade level or subject area. In sending your resume to a school, you make obvious your desire to teach!
To whom am I writing? In my experience in a University setting, we tailor our publications to a variety of audiences: parents, students, alumni, donors, and members of the community. Some pieces, such as an alumni newsletter, are focused on one core group. Other publications, such as financial and campaign reports, are directed at multiple groups.
Take, for instance, a construction project. Donors like to know how their money is being used, and they want specifics. You wouldn’t just write, “We are building a new $20 million classroom building this year.” Instead, you would describe the classrooms, offices, laboratories, conference rooms, square footage, and equipment that the addition will house. Parents will want to know that the building will not cause an increase in tuition, and students will want details about lounges, laboratories, and technological capabilities. Members of the community will ask how the new facility will benefit or impact the residents, economy and environment.
What do I know about my audience? Here is often when knowing the demographics of your audience can help you determine how to deliver your message. Are you readers high-school graduates, or do they hold doctoral degrees? Are they professionals or blue-color workers? Do they have children, and, if so, how old are the children? The more you can find out about their lifestyle and values, the more effective you can be, especially in a persuasive piece.
Empty-nesters, for example, will have a different amount of disposable income than parents of school-age children. If you were looking for them to invest in your company, you would offer them a short-term investment. Young parents, however, would be more interested in long-term investments.
In resumes and cover letters, this is where you thoroughly research the company or organization for which you wish to work. An extensive knowledge of its history, products or services, and goals is often the key to a successful interview and obtaining the position you desire.
What is my medium? Now, address the manner of publication, which can help you determine the length and format of your message. Are you writing a brochure, article, or even Web-related content? Each manner of writing requires a different style, approach, and layout. Web-related content tends to be fact-based and to the point. Think of it as small bursts of tightly packed and easy-to-understand information. Brochures also convey information, but can be lengthier and offer more facts, examples, and statistics. Articles, depending on the discipline, usually allow more poetic license from which strict, fact-based pieces refrain. You will find that even resume formats and styles differ depending on whether you are submitting it online or via mail/in person.
Once you have answered these questions, you can begin writing. By outlining the specific goals of your message, you can prevent leaving out vital information. Remember that insurance policy? Would you leave out details such as length and premium? The outline also gives you an opportunity to make sure that you, the writer, fully understand the objective. Optimal knowledge on your end will only strengthen the piece.