Because all writing has an implied reader, effective writing requires writers to consider their audience. Communicating in writing with different types of people, in different situations, and for different purposes will change the way you write to those particular readers.
For example, you wouldn’t write a letter to a prospective employer the same way that you might casually chat with a friend on social media. You’ll want to consider the audience, as well as the format and context, to determine the appropriate type of writing for your reader.
Audience Awareness and Analysis
It is important to be aware of your intended audience in order to be an effective writer. However, sometimes it can be difficult to determine the audience. Click on our Audience Analysis Worksheet to help you analyze your audience in preparation for writing.
Before beginning to write for your readers, you must be clear on following:
What is the purpose of the communication? Considering the context of the writing and the rhetorical situation is important to write effectively for your reader. If you do not know what you are trying to accomplish and the reaction you hope to achieve from your reader, it is not likely you will accomplish it. Write down your purpose and keep it in the forefront of your mind as you compose your message.
Is the purpose to be persuasive? Informative? A sales pitch? Action based? How can you shape your writing to achieve your intended response from your reader?
For example, your purpose may be to change the reader’s mind about the importance of solar power. In this case, you may intend to persuade, or you may want the reader to take an action, such as changing their home energy source to solar. Think about how the purpose will guide how you communicate to your audience.
Who will read your writing? Consider the background of your audience, including age, social class, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, nationality, etc. These considerations may or may not change your approach to your writing.
For example, you wouldn’t write the same way to an audience of five-year-old girls from an affluent background as you would to an audience of working-class thirty-year-old men. However, you might write similarly to peers in your university classroom, regardless of their background.
Is the audience familiar with the subject you are writing about? The audience expertise level will guide your use of vocabulary, such as industry-specific jargon, as well as how detailed your explanation of the topic should be.
For example, an audience of prospective car buyers may not know the terminology of all the detailed parts of an engine. This audience may need a simplified explanation of how an engine works. Similarly, you wouldn’t want to explain the basics of how an alternator works to an audience of professional auto mechanics. Adjust your vocabulary and amount of explanation to fit the expertise level of your audience.
Writing for your audience
How can I best approach writing for my audience?
Once you determine your purpose, the format, the demographics, and expertise level of your audience, you can determine the tone, vocabulary, and if a formal or informal approach will best convey your message.
Determine how much information you need to convey to your audience to achieve your intended purpose. Consider how much information is enough for your intended audience and how much is too much. It is helpful to make an outline of key points and ideas before beginning to write.
The type of research you conduct should be consistent with the knowledge level of your audience as well. Will academic articles be the best sources to use for your audience, or are credible business or trade publications a better choice?
Consider how you arrange your ideas to most effectively convey your message to your specific audience. If the audience is unfamiliar with your topic, for example, you would want to start with a brief explanation of that topic before discussing any details.
Different formats have different organizations. For example, an email might state the purpose immediately, while an academic paper or blog might not state the purpose until later.
The format for your writing is an important consideration as well. Some common written formats today are academic papers, business reports, emails, blogs, and social media. Your writing for your peers on a discussion board in an academic setting will likely be more formal than if you were posting a response to those same peers on social media. Determine how the format will influence your approach to writing.
Choose the tone and vocabulary appropriate to your audience. Tone is the feeling you convey to your reader through your choice of words, such as serious and formal, or casual and playful. In a professional environment, an email detailing an employee performance review will have a different tone than an email invitation for a work after-party.
It may be fine to use professional jargon for an audience of professionals in that industry, but the same vocabulary will be confusing to people outside of that professional industry. Choose vocabulary that best fits your intended audience.
How formal is the audience and format for your writing? Your writing should be more formal for a professional format and audience as compared to a casual situation, like text messaging. View the breakdown below to understand the different formality levels of different audiences and formats.
- Audience: Employers, teachers, professional/academic peers
- Format: Professional or academic communication (letter, email, online classroom)
Hello Ms. Gutman,
I received your email about the marketing project, and I’m happy to participate in this project. Thank you for thinking of me!
I’d like to meet with you to discuss the following:
Social media platforms
Marketing best practices
Tracking marketing communications
I will send a meeting invite to you for later this week.
- Audience: Friends, family, peers/colleagues
- Format: Casual communication (text, email, blog, social media)
Just heard you’ll be involved in the marketing project! That’s great—me too! 😊
Let’s meet up soon to discuss some ideas I have on how we can tackle this. Be on the look out for a meeting invite.
- Audience: Self, close friends
- Format: Journal, blog, email
Thanks for your help on the marketing project. I can’t believe we finally got through it. It was so much work with all the research we had to do, but I think that all of that effort will be worth it in the long run. Our work on this project really showcased all that we can do under a tight deadline, which will look great on our yearly evaluations or if the company needs us to work on a complex marketing project in the future.