Writing for a Target Audience
Target audiences are groups with a common characteristic or purpose. They may be large or small, age, occupation or gender- based, or may belong to particular communities, localities or workplaces. If you are writing for one of them you should have a good idea of their interests and their concerns.
Writing is something many of us do regularly in our working lives. We write instinctively – most people develop a certain style of writing that comes naturally to them. Occasionally this can go wrong – perhaps adults might attempt to adopt the vocabulary of young people for instance. When it doesn’t work the writing jars, seems patronising or ill-informed and can be very counter-productive.
In some cases writing style might not matter too much, but in a situation where it is important that the written document is acted upon by its readers, then it is worth spending time on it to bring about the outcome we desire.
It may seem obvious but before starting a piece of writing you should be quite clear about the basics. Ask yourself
- What is the purpose – what do I want the outcome to be? What do I want the reader to do as a result?
- Whom am I writing for? Who makes up my target audience?
- What is the tone I should use? Is it formal, conversational, informative or humorous?
You may need to give simple information, facts or instructions – which will be neutral in tone, informative and as unambiguous as possible.
Often though, your writing may be to
- promote your service,
- encourage clients to use it,
- convince commissioners to fund it, or
- persuade the public to support it.
Establishing what your primary purpose is and sticking firmly to this will help you shape your text and keep irrelevancies out. If you can focus on producing a particular outcome the writing will be sharper, leaner and easier for the reader to get the point.
What you write must be relevant to the group you want to reach. Think of five or six common qualities of your audience at the outset – their likes and dislikes, their problems, their opinions etc, so that what you write is in tune and more likely to be understood.
Carry a picture of your typical reader clearly in mind. Then keep re-reading your piece, as if you were that person, it will help you see what makes sense to them and what may need re-phrasing. Work-related jargon can also be a problem. Staff who use specialist terms constantly at work are so used to them that they sometimes forget other people may not understand them and find it difficult to replace them with a simpler word.
If you can, try to hear the rhythm of the sentences you produce. Because although written words are ‘seen’ – reading is actually ‘heard’ in your mind, so getting the rhythm right will help you find the right flow for the text and will also help establish the right tone.
If information is what you say in a piece of writing, tone is how you say it: your choice of words can either draw a reader in or turn them off. If you are writing for service users then an open, friendly tone with straightforward language will give an impression of an organisation that is welcoming, responsive and not too formal. No jargon and no colloquial phrases though.
If you are writing for funding partners, commissioners or senior staff then a cooler, more businesslike tone reflects on your organisation as professional, competent and knowledgeable. Again don’t use slang or jargon, although specialist language may be desirable if you are sure your audience use it too.
Press releases require a style that is brief, to the point and fairly informal. The more conversational-style quotes the better, because these break up the text, they appear to speak directly to the reader and are easier to take in.
A note on the Web
When you are writing content for the web you should be aware that it is different from writing for print. Online readers are not likely to read every word. They tend to glance, skim and scan their way through information, quite possibly whilst checking email at the same time. Keep it simple and keep it short to make it as accessible as possible.
Heather Alabaster, ©Jan 2011
0191 386 5918
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