Know Your Audience

See also: Know Your Medium

Knowing or anticipating who will be reading what you have written is key to effective writing. This page outlines the importance of knowing your audience when writing or preparing to write.

The first question to ask is “Who am I writing this for?”  When writing letters or emails, the answer may be obvious but for other forms of writing such as reports, strategies, marketing brochures, advertising copy, or blogs the answer may not be so obvious.

Even when writing to an individual, bear in mind that your words might easily be copied and pasted into another format or passed to another audience so it is better to be mindful of this wider audience than to ignore it completely.

Adapting Writing to the Audience

Knowing who your audience is means that you can adapt the content of your writing to address the main concerns of your audience.

For example, an annual report written on behalf of a corporate organisation must address the concerns of stakeholders and potential stakeholders but can assume that these readers have at least some background knowledge of what the organisation does and will not need to include what each individual member of staff does. 

Advertising copy written for the same product or service might have different content and style dependent upon the medium through which the advertisement will be broadcast.  And if you know your readers are specialists in a particular area, the writing style should acknowledge this and differ from an article written on the same topic for the general public.

Knowing your audience will also help you to decide on the “voice” to use. 

The writer's voice is a literary term used to describe the individual writing style of an author but also includes how formal or informal (relaxed) the tone of voice should be.  Letters or emails to personal friends may be written in a very informal style since there is already a degree or familiarity between the writer (you) and the audience (your friend).   However this same style is not appropriate in professional situations where a more formal tone is expected. You may find our page: Business Writing Tips helpful here.

If you are writing to very busy people who perhaps receive hundreds of similar communications, then you should adopt a brief and succinct written style that conveys the key messages quickly and clearly. 

You could also consider including graphs, charts, diagrams or illustrations if this helps to convey the key messages more succinctly than elaborate and convoluted text.  If, however, you know that you are writing to people who want or need detailed content then provide it.  If you are not sure how much detail is required, then it is always best to ask first.

Our pages How to Write a Report and Writing an Executive Summary give examples.

Before you start writing you should, where possible, identify the audience of your writing and tailor your writing style to suit.