What? I Can Write! Keep Your Audience in Mind

“A man may write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly to it.”—Samuel Johnson

Keep Your Audience in Mind

Any writer who writes to be read—and who wants to continue to be read—must understand and follow one cardinal principle: respect your audience.

Of course, in order to respect your audience, you must know who your audience is. This is why it is so important to identify your target audience before you begin writing. Identifying your audience before you start helps guide the writing process by answering many questions up front, such as vocabulary, style, sentence length and structure, paragraph length, and so forth. If you were writing an article explaining the weather cycle, for example, you would handle that topic very differently when writing for elementary-age children than when writing for adults.

Respecting your audience, then, means tailoring your writing to their level. How do you do this?

First, don’t talk down to them. Don’t insult their intelligence by underestimating their ability to comprehend what you are saying. You can keep it simple without being condescending. Assume the best of your readers.

Second, don’t talk above your audience. While you don’t want to condescend, neither do you want to talk over their heads. Too simple or too advanced; either way, you will lose your audience. Like Goldilocks with her porridge, the balance must be “just right.”

Third, don’t be afraid to challenge your audience to think, to expand their horizons, to enlarge the boundaries of their imagination. Most readers enjoy being challenged in one way or another. They appreciate writers who respect their intelligence and assume their capacity to grow. As writers, we don’t want our readers to walk away the same as they were before. We want to transport them to some new place, to raise them to a new level of knowledge, understanding, experience or imagination. Challenge your audience. They will appreciate you for it.

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