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One of the challenges in written communication, especially when compared with live presentations or that which is face-to-face, is that you, as the writer, can’t see your audience. There’s no immediate, visual feedback from which you can read reactions and responses. Whereas a speaker can notice a raised eyebrow, nod of the head, or engaged stare, writers can only guess how their message is being perceived.

It seems more like a monologue.

That is, unless the writer pre-views his readers and continually keeps them in mind before and during his writing. Previewing, considering, and including your audience in your thoughts as you’re drafting your message is an effective way of realizing that you don’t have to create your work in isolation, but can operate from the perspective of a dialogue or group interaction. If you do so, you’ll be better able to meet your audience’s needs, reach their minds, and touch their hearts.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself in your next writing assignment to create a better mental image of your readers, develop a more collaborative approach to your communication, and enjoy a more profound overall communication experience.

How many readers are you writing for?

Your language should reflect the size and composition of your readers. More personal, specific language can be used in smaller groups. A more generic and all-encompassing tone is often required for larger groups.

What are their interests?

One of a writer’s chief considerations is being keenly aware of the intellectual and psychological makeup and needs of her audience. You can write spectacular prose intelligently, eloquently, and persuasively, but if you’re not meeting the interests and needs of those to whom you’re writing, it’s just a collection of words. Who is your audience? What do they want? What do they need? Know these answers well before you start your first lines.

How much do your readers know?

Are your readers inexperienced or pros? Is this new information or just expanded data on an already- known topic? Are they managers or front-line personnel? The answer to these questions will determine the types of words you use, the amount of information you can share, and the depth of material you propose. Writing on a simple, familiar topic is far different than communicating about a more complicated issue where fewer in your audience are likely to be well versed on the topic.

How passionate are your readers about your topic?

Think of it this way. Everyone has a hierarchical list of issues that are most important to them. If you’re addressing those that rank high on their interest level, you’ve got an engaged audience to which you can write appropriately. If your comments concern topics that fall farther down on their priority list, you’ll have more of a challenge in keeping and retaining interest.

Are there any issues that are sensitive to your audience?

In business writing, you’ll often be writing about a topic that might involve some controversy, where your reader may have an emotional or negative response. But just because there may be areas of potential defensiveness or disagreement doesn’t mean you don’t proceed. The key is to know these issues well and know how to navigate around them without sinking any ships in the process. Present the issue, deal with it fairly and factually, and offer areas of mutual interest and resolution. Pre-viewing your audience and knowing their “hot spots” is essential in writing on these topics because of your lack of immediate feedback, and doing damage control in written form is much more difficult than if you had been in front of your audience and could have handled things immediately and comprehensively.

What kind of response are you expecting?

If knowing the interests and needs of your audience is one of the essential components for an effective writer, then knowing how you want your readers to respond to your message ranks a very close second. In other words, what do you want your readers to do with your message? How do you want them to feel? What do you want them to know? Knowing these answers will help you develop the exact language you’ll use, the line of thinking you’ll present, and the closing call-to-action you will offer your readers.

A speaker learns to size up his audience, engage with them, and even feed off them, but a writer must learn that he’s not communicating in a vacuum; there’s an audience out there. If you want to make your written communication more of a dialogue than a monologue, you need to know your audience well and constantly keep them in mind as you write. Your success will be commensurate with the degree with which you can identify with them and deliver messages that resound with their interests and needs.

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