Why Write Specifically for Your Audience

Woman at her desk writing

There are countless examples of unimpressive writing on the internet but let’s add one more.  If you’ve never had the pleasure of encountering an e-mail like this, please be thankful.

Example of Bad Writing
  Hello Rick,
  The Office machine is broken, luckily, they tried fixing it and it worked. You must push the button.
Example of More Detailed Writing
  Hello Rick,
The fax machine by the back door was broken, luckily John from IT was able to fix it. I wanted to warn you in case it happens again. He restarted the machine with the power button on the back of it.

The first message is clearly missing the important points. Maybe it was because of haste or stress, but either way information was lost in translation.

One of the greatest challenges we face as writers is making our work interesting. As artists as well, we often struggle with inferiority complexes. That challenge in the face of self-doubt can sometimes feel overwhelming. You no longer need to doubt yourself though. You can transform your writing every day, it’s only a matter of your approach.

Even if you are just writing for your office, or for a global publication what you write matters. What you have to say matters, and if you want to be an effective written communicator you must consider looking deeper.

Improve your writing by identifying your audience, planning your message, and incorporating important details that tap into your reader’s imagination.

Main Ideas

  • Understanding your audience better can help you connect with their pain points.
  • Details create more vivid descriptions and make your writing easier to understand.
  • Concrete language can improve your understanding of a subject, and help you write with the senses.
  • Abstract language is an effective writing tool when used properly.

How to Research Your Audience

Your audience is the consumer who enjoys your product. These individuals should represent your motivation and play a key role in your writing.

I know many people write for themselves, but the reality is you are also write for someone else. While it’s true writing for yourself will help you improve and enjoy your work. Writing for others gives your work true life, creating something beyond what you could do alone.

By stepping outside of your own shoes, you are also able to paint a better picture. New experiences give you access to more creative material, not to mention it encourages the practice of observation.

In order to start, you need to identify an imaginary person, and ask yourself questions about them:

  • Where did they grow up?
  • How old are they?
  • What are they afraid of?
  • What do they love?
  • What kind of job do they have?

Developing a character profile will give you a better idea who might be interested in your work.

Next, start extrapolating that single example into a real-world group of people. Visit the areas that interest your audience members online.

You can also conduct interviews when you are able to find someone open to answering your questions. Qualitative data has tremendous value in constructing personas.

In addition, you can find lots of statistical data online. Census.gov is a great example.  You can look up how large a demographic is in the U.S. or discover what kind of jobs people have. These broad stats can help you put your opportunity into perspective.

Finally, train your eyes to watch people while you are out. The practice of observation can help a writer by presenting an outside opinion and great material.

For example, suppose you run a garden blog, you might have never thought global warming was a topic you should write about. Then you notice your readers are raving about it in the comments section. It’s probably time to write a piece about global warming.

The bottom line is listen to them. Once you begin to understand the people you want to help, you can address their challenges, and if you speak to their problems, they will care.

Why Details Matter

Not only will understanding your audience help you produce that effect, so will pouring details into your writing itself.

California State University Northridge explained concrete details as being reasons, examples, names, numbers, and senses. These details drive interest, so dive in when you are writing.

Details also help readers connect the dots and can make a world come alive.  Layers of abstract thoughts on the other hand are extremely difficult to understand. Layers of specifics, in contrast, seldom hurt.

Here is an example from my one of my pieces Valentine’s Weekend Gone Wrong.

This abstract version was from the first draft.

Sally ran immediately to explore the granite and marble bathroom that had a lovely bidet, which she was happy to experiment with a few times, before joining the group again.

Here is my re-write after adding more concrete elements.

Sally ran immediately to explore the granite and marble bathroom. Her mouth dropped when she noticed the strange buttons on the side of the toilet. It was unexpected, but she giggled as she felt the pressure of a stream of water against her backside. One by one she tried every button until she had lost track of time.

As you can see, the act of ornamenting our writing, forces us to look deeper for answers. It encourages us to ask more questions about our work. Demand more of ourselves.

As inexperienced writers it is easy to fall into the trap of telling everything. Concrete details pressure us to show more, which adds depth and credibility. Concrete details also bring in the senses to our writing. Not to mention, Concrete details are easier for people to process.

This isn’t to say abstract words aren’t useful in writing, they should simply be used deliberately.

Plan Your Message

Many writers prefer to jump right into it. Diving into a piece cold works for them. Their creativity comes alive as they are improvising.

All writing is improvisation, though. That’s why I prefer the plan and sprint approach. Because I believe great writing moves through multiple stages. From ideation to research to outline to draft to polished product, every stage is important. Whether the details are included in the final piece or not, it only makes the final product stronger. So, don’t be afraid to get into specifics that you won’t use in the finished piece.

If your workflow/process involves a short ideation period, consider extending it. The research will help you create richer details, and help you develop your thoughts.

Even in the office, with short e-mail replies it can help to start them in a word doc before finally pasting them into the e-mail itself. This encourages you to organize your thoughts, so your explanation/thought is cohesive. This will help your message come across with clarity.

What Drives Your Reader’s Imagination?

Concrete language creates a clearer image, but abstract details can add color as well. Life is not black or white, and neither are writing rules.

While too much detail can sometimes bore a reader, abstract language provokes a reader’s imagination. To keep their imagination occupied though, you need to make the experience easy. This requires a writer to balance both abstract and concrete details.

This concept is nothing new, in fact, it was coined in the Language in Thought and Action as the ladder of abstraction. Ideally in order to keep your audiences’ interest your writing should adapt to different situations.

For Example:

Meredith was on her way to visit the family, when she noticed a familiar forest and wondered if any winter flowers might be in bloom. Pulling over, she got out to take a peek around.

She was in love. The smell of pine and sweet hitting her as she pushed the car door open. The crunch of frozen snow under feet as she wandered off onto the side of the road.

Feeling a chill sweep around her, she grabbed herself, and looked back at the car parked only a few dozen feet away. A cold uncertain sensation swept up her spine.

This example shows how adding both concrete and abstract language can color a piece of writing.

Be flexible and at the same time be specific. Make your writing intentional, it’s really that simple.

Make the Most of Your Time Writing

It isn’t really a new approach to writing. It’s the same tried and true method that has always worked.

As a writer you are responsible for understanding yourself, but more than that you are responsible for understanding others. Open your ears and listen to your audience.

Also make an effort to mix concrete and abstract details together. This type of writing style will allow you to tap into you’re reader’s imagination while making the experience easy on them.

Your writing won’t become great overnight. It will always require hard work. Luckily the experimentation is part of the fun.

With a world of ever-shrinking attention spans, it never hurts to try something new. Don’t confine yourself to one style or the other. Modern writer’s need every single weapon to attract readers. If you are going to war, it doesn’t make sense to only bring a single sentence. No, instead I recommend you fill in those details, and write something that truly comes to life.

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