Writing to Be Read: The Value of Knowing Your Audience

By Kelly Tabbutt

Knowing your audience is the key to good writing.

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You and Your Audience

As a writer, you may write for different audiences. When writers talk about knowing your audience they do not mean this literally, as in knowing them personally. Rather, “knowing” means anticipating the needs, desires, motivations, and reactions of your potential audience. 

What It Means to Know Your Audience

Knowing your audience is meaningless if it doesn’t translate to writing for your audience. This means writing tailored to the reading level, knowledge base, interests, and stylistic preferences that will speak to your audience. 

Reading level refers most simplistically to word choice. Are you using jargon only understood by those working in your topic area (for example, physics or fashion), or are you choosing words that can be understood by the broad public? 

In terms of knowledge level, this, relatedly, refers to the likely background information that your audience does or does not already have. How much contextual information is required to effectively discuss what you are writing about?

Also consider topics or aspects of your topic that will be most useful and interesting: Is the information you present relatable to the experiences of your audience?

Style has numerous elements, but they all boil down to a question of “writing dialect.” In other words, does your writing’s organization, word choice, and use of grammatical rules and punctuation mimic the standards (the “dialect”) your audience is used to seeing (that is, academic vs. journalistic). 

Why You Need to Know Your Audience

Knowing your audience is the most effective way to connect with them. Think about writing for your audience in the sense of “speaking their language.” If you are not writing in their language, communication cannot happen. Or, at best, the communication will be muddled and the point and knowledge you are trying to impart will be lost or misunderstood. 

Any writing outside of diaries or personal journals is expected to be read by others. That is, at the end of the day, most people write to be read. There are many reasons why people write for readers; to spread knowledge, to gain visibility, to make connections…the list goes on. 

On the flip side, outside of required reading for work or school, readers read mainly for entertainment and learning. Thus, these readers read for enjoyment and/or fulfillment. Writing for your audience allows you to tap into these motivations and use them to draw readership. 

Ways to Learn About Your Audience

It’s important to learn about your audience if you want to capture their attention and interest. There are many ways to learn about your likely audience. If you are not writing for a specific audience, or you have just started blogging and do not have an audience yet, you can make a list of the ideal readership of your writing. What are their interests, motivations for reading, and so on?

If you already have an audience, you can ask them about what they’d like to read, and even ask for feedback on your existing writing.

If you already have an audience, you can ask them about what they’d like to read, and even ask for feedback on your existing writing. Two ways to do this are to reach out via social media and reading blog comments. These methods both offer a wealth of insight into who your audience is and what they are looking for as readers. 

Social media is a great place to learn about the interests, preferences, and characteristics of your audience. Reading comments made by followers about you or your work shows what does and doesn’t work. Follower profiles can give you a snapshot of who your followers are as people. Twitter is great for learning about your audience. If you have followers, you can poll them via Twitter polls, generate discussion about a topic, and even share your articles and ask readers for feedback.

Blog comments are another great source of insight. While they won’t provide you with as much information about the background and characteristics of your audience, they can offer more context-specific critiques of what you write about and how you present these ideas.  

How Knowing Your Audience Improves Your Writing

Writing for your audience, and thus knowing your audience, is one of the key elements of good writing. When you know your audience, you will write more comprehensibly, pragmatically, effectively, and with more versatility. 

When you know your audience, specifically, their reading and knowledge level you can write in a way that “speaks” to them. When you know their backgrounds, characteristics, and interests, you will be able to write on content and in a way that is meaningful to their lives. 

When you know your audience’s stylistic and content preferences, you can write in a way that they will respond to — a way that has an emotional or intellectual impact on them. Further, knowing and writing to the various members of your audience lends versatility to your writing. 

Write to Be Read

Knowing your audience means knowing their aptitudes: their reading level and knowledge base,  and also knowing their interests: their stylistic and content preferences. Good writing is comprehensible, pragmatic, effective, and versatile. It’s written to grab its readers. Knowing your audience — and using that knowledge in your writing — is the key to good writing. 

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