Writing for an Audience

Here’s some advice that English instructors repeat all the time: “Write for your audience.” I heard it from my my own instructors many times over the years, and I always nodded and tried to look as if I understood what it meant.

The truth is that I didn’t fully understand – and I think many writers are as befuddled about writing for an audience as I was. Audience is a big, heavy, static word…what do you do with it? Of course you should state your ideas clearly, and edit your sentences carefully, and make sure your ideas are strong and coherent. But you don’t need the concept of an audience to do those things.

So how do you write for an audience? You keep real people in mind – your readers – as you’re writing. It’s not easy to do when you’re already juggling a multitude of writing skills and principles as you work on your piece.

But help is on the way. Here are some tricks that professional writers use to forge a connection with their audience. Despite their simplicity, these strategies really work!

  1. Put yourself in your readers’ shoes.
  2. Think about your readers before you start writing.
  3. Decide what experiences you want your writers to have: surprised? touched? motivated? angry? impressed?
  4. Think about a living person you know who’s similar to your imaginary audience. Write for that person.
  5. Figure out what your audience already knows about your topic. Be prepared to fill in the rest of the background they’ll need, and do it early.
  6. When you get to the editing stage, reread your piece slowly, looking for any words your readers might not understand. Delete them (or insert clues to their meaning).
  7. Ask a friend or family member outside your field to read your piece and give you feedback.

If you’re sitting there smugly and congratulating yourself that you already do these things, beware. I’m pretty smart, and I have years of experience with professional writing – and yet I’ve botched up #5 numerous times.

It’s always a good idea to go over the strategies again just to make sure you’re reaching your audience effectively!

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2 thoughts on “Writing for an Audience

  1. Stephen Chinnery

    How about the comma before the “and”? Isn’t that redundant to the meaning of the sentence?

  2. ballroomdancer Post author

    Here’s the sentence: I can’t believe that all of you planned that surprise party, and I never suspected a thing. You have a point – the sentence is perfectly readable without the comma after “party.”
    I always use a comma when two sentences join “and.” That comma tells readers that the “planned” part of the sentence is over, and we’re coming to a new sentence. Without the comma, a reader’s brain might expect to hear something else about planning and would momentarily feel confused about the “I”:
    I can’t believe that all of you planned that surprise party and a trip to Niagara Falls.
    Using a comma with “and” and “but” to join two sentences makes life slightly easier for readers, and I always use it. (That goes for all the coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.)
    I have a favorite sentence about a squirrel that I always use to teach these commas. I’m going to do a post about it – thanks for getting me thinking about it, Stephen!

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