Writing AdviceWriting, Advice
ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated

Writing to Your Reader


Would you consider giving a speech to a group without first knowing who they were and what they expected from you? The same logic applies to the written word, from resumes and cover letters to romance novels and sales brochures.

While oral presentations have the added benefit of facial expressions, hand gestures, listener feedback and even visual aids, written communications must rely solely on their words for the desired response or effect. For that reason, the most important research you must obtain for everything you write is the information about your audience.

Whether the subject of your document is of your own choosing or a scholastic assignment, before you put pen to paper, you must first ascertain the purpose of your communication and the identity of your reader(s) by finding answers to as many of the following questions as possible:

  • Is your audience primarily male or female? This is important in your choice of words and phrases, imparting feelings or opinions, drawing conclusions, etc., as depending upon your topic and your purpose, you might elicit more positive responses if your document is tailored toward one sex or the other.
  • What native nationality is your audience? As an example, if you are writing in English as your second language to a group that is primarily English-speaking, you should definitely have an English-speaking associate review your document.
  • What is the age group? From children's books to advertisements for denture adhesive, always determine the probable age of your major audience so that your words are read, not ignored or discounted as either too difficult to understand or too childish.
  • What is the average annual income? Even a guess will help you determine word choices, tone, and possibly subject matter if you know whether you are writing to college students on a limited budget or to business executives who fly First Class and drive a Mercedes.
  • Are you writing to please, persuade, or inform your reader(s)? Your purpose may change depending upon your audience, but you should always begin your writing with an idea of what you want to accomplish based on the identity of your reader(s).
  • Under what conditions will your document be read (i.e., at home, in a classroom, in a magazine or newspaper)? The length and content of your writing may depend on where you expect your audience to be when they read your document. A casual setting like the kitchen table lends itself to more casual wording and more detail, while a teacher may have many papers to read and may be looking for immediate positive or negative reasons for a grade.
  • Does your reader want to read your document? You must determine if your audience is looking forward to reading your document (i.e., someone buying your novel), and if it is a requirement or necessity (i.e., a teacher grading your essay or a consumer looking for a low price).
  • What response do you expect (i.e., a good grade, the sale of a product, a phone call)? No matter what you are writing — advertising copy, a short story, a personal statement, an essay — always keep in mind the end result you expect, and when you read your final draft, ask yourself, "If I were my audience, would I respond as intended?"

Knowing your reader(s) actually makes writing easier, forcing you to focus rather than just throw words on a page, and ensuring that your final document has a much better chance of succeeding for any purpose. Before you begin to write, take a few minutes to explore your reader's mind and environment; you'll discover that your written communications will be better organized, more interesting and well-received.

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