Writer’s Guide: Know Your Audience

A basic piece of advice for all writers is to know their audience. In order to reach someone, you need to have a conception of their interests, their motivations, their knowledge, and their prejudices. Whether it’s writing a note to your friend, or writing for a workshop class, or writing a text message that your mobile carrier will copy into a law enforcement database, the same principles apply.

Starbucks Coffee

Starbucks Coffee (Rudolf Schuba, Flickr)

It’s good to have a routine for writing. Sit somewhere where all you do is write, buy your favourite cup of coffee, and turn the wi-fi off on your laptop so that the hidden keyloggers don’t transmit all those aborted sentences to government keyword-monitoring servers. If there’s one thing worse than a publisher not understanding your vision, it’s a counter-terrorism unit paying you a visit at 3am! Ha-ha!

Once you get in the habit of writing for a particular audience, it becomes effortless. When you write a heartfelt message to your loved ones, you’ll automatically consider the effect your word and phrase choices will have on you, your spouse, your children, and the RCMP officers assigned to your file.


Treehouse (Paddy Griffin, Geograph)

It’s important to use words and phrases that your audience understands, and to be explicit rather than implicit. For example, “Let’s go meet at the old treehouse, it’s not safe here,” might confuse rather than clairify. For the benefit of all your audience, write, “Let’s meet at the old treehouse at coordinates 44.733001, -63.715240; it’s not safe here at the corner of Holland and Landsburg, 300m up the street from the nearest police station. I will walk along the most direct route and I am wearing a blue jacket and brown pants.”

Be concise, and talk about what’s important to your audience. If you’re selling a product, focus on the problems the product will solve, not how it works. If you’re delivering an address at a conference, keep it on topic. If your audience is a drone you’re sending to execute dissidents, it doesn’t need to know the context of why it is necessary to eliminate the heretic.

The needs of your audience will dictate much. If you’re writing for a newspaper, you must consider the interests of your readers, your advertisers, your advertisers, and your advertisers. It’s a good idea not to put more than one idea into a single article because otherwise you’re making things much too difficult to summarily judge. Ideally, you would not aver any ideas at all, except to tell people not to aver ideas. For academic writing, you can push this rule a bit, but keep in mind that your results should be positive, especially in psychology, where absent a base in scientific theory it’s all the more critical to look like you know what you’re doing. If you’re writing for children, there are a few key things you should avoid, like writing in the passive voice or being male.

Pripyat Schoolyard

Just follow the code of the schoolyard, and you’ll be fine. (Timm Suess, Flickr)

Sometimes it can be hard to write something for a general audience, as their needs are as diverse as the audience. You need to consider your peers, your friends, your colleagues, as well as the prospective employers screening you to make sure you don’t express controversial opinions. A good rule of thumb is not to write anything unless you’re sure that everybody else feels exactly the same way. That way you’re safe, and so are the rest of us.

As we all know, our fairly elected officials who campaigned on completely transparent platforms by a completely informed voter base have the legitimacy to make sure our thoughts are the ones that are approved. For if they aren’t, there must be something wrong with us! Fortunately, we have a fair, humane, and effective mental health system to fix the people who don’t fit our ever-more-perfect society. We have miraculous pharmaceuticals that allow us to suppress the parts of people that are broken, paving the way to our living in peace and happiness.

In fact, one might wonder, why write at all? It could be seen to be a disturbance to the natural order of things, which is defined as the way our culture conducts itself right now. Giving people the chance to write means that they could express opinions that are contrary to our immutable shared understanding, an understanding that must be correct because it is, after all, the understanding of the majority. It is true that with a stronger focus on mental health, we can minimize the chances that people with disturbing ideas will come across a pen and an audience. But we might be safer if we were to simply ban writing, except, of course, for writing to people to tell them not to write, which will require these same audience-aware principles.

Canadian Flag

Canadian Flag (Victor Magdic, Flickr)

And, lest I forget, Happy Canada Day!

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Further (serious) material:

Elizabeth May speaks about C-13 in the House of Commons.

Donate $30 and get an ad played right here in Central Nova, Peter MacKay‘s riding!

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