Posted by: Jack Henry | April 4, 2019

Editor’s Corner: Know Your Audience

Today, I’d like to share the best writing advice that I ever received: know your audience.

As a writer, your job is not to empty your entire brain onto the page with every document (or email or presentation) you write. Always start by asking two questions.

Question #1: What Does the Reader Already Know?

Who is the intended reader? Consider questions such as the following:

  • What is this person’s job?
  • How much experience does this person have?
  • What education and training does this person have?

Some writers find it helpful to picture a real person (a coworker, a friend, or a family member) and write specifically for him or her.

Question #2: What Does the Reader Need to Know?

In other words, what are the reader’s goals? If you’re writing an airport paperback, the reader’s goal might be fending off boredom while waiting for a plane. However, in a business setting, the reader’s goal is something more concrete, like backing up important data, generating a report, or connecting a laptop to a video projector.

Even if you’re not writing step-by-step instructions, the information you provide has to be useful in some way. If the reader is not better equipped to do his or her job after reading your document, it probably wasn’t worth writing in the first place.

Start Writing

After you’ve identified what the reader already knows and what the reader needs to know, write to fill this gap—no more, no less. I have found that once my projects have such a well-defined scope, the actual writing process tends to go smoothly.

My Last Post

In January, I was promoted from technical editor to technical writing supervisor. Therefore, this Editor’s Corner post (my 83rd!) will be my last.

Thank you for reading. I hope you learned something and had some fun along the way. The other editors will continue to post on our current Tuesday and Thursday schedule.

About Editor’s Corner

Editor’s Corner keeps your communication skills sharp by providing information on grammar, punctuation, JHA style, and all things English. As editors, we spend our days reading, researching, and revising other people’s writing. We love to spend a few extra minutes to share what we learn with you and keep it fun while we’re doing it.

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Ben Ritter | Technical Writing Supervisor | Symitar®
8985 Balboa Avenue | San Diego, CA 92123
619-682-3391 | or ext. 763391 |

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