Guide to taking an audience-first approach to your writing

Posted by Oliver Hogue on 26/03/2018

These days, it’s easy to publish your own writing – most of us do it regularly on Twitter or Facebook. The people reading our social posts can be family and friends, or perhaps our co-workers or groups of people who share the same interests, such as sport or politics.

As we move between these groups we tailor our language and style to suit the new audience. We wouldn’t use the same language when posting on grandma’s Facebook as we would if we were tweeting about the Greens’ chances in an upcoming election.

So let’s take a look at how you can tailor style and content to be as persuasive as possible for your audience, whether you’re writing tenders, resumes, newsletters or feature articles.

First – the fine art of persuasion

Rhetoric – the art of persuasion – was developed in the fifth century BC for public speakers. As a series of techniques, it paid particular attention to the speaker’s audience: what it was thinking, how it could be won over, and what arguments best suited that task.

That said, there are times when writing isn’t so much about persuasion as entertainment, or infotainment. So there are two broad audience categories to keep in mind when writing: those we wish to clearly steer towards a particular action or decision, and those we want to entertain or inform.

Let’s start with an example of the former.

Writing tenders to meet your audience’s needs

A tender submission document is designed to persuade an organisation that you can give them better results than other bidders.

Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean a cheaper result. It’s often the case that the cheapest bidder is cheap for a reason: either they have misread the RFT, or they plan on using unsuitable materials and methods.

Tender review panels are the audience most likely to be dismissive and stressed. The stakes are high; mistakes can be costly.

So when writing tenders remember:

- The proposal is not about you, it’s about the needs of the buyer (audience)
- Give the buyer what they ask for
- Respect the tender process

If an RFT asks for specific points, make sure you address them. This is not the place to talk about how wonderful your family company is or when it was founded. It’s about convincing the buyer you are the answer to their problem. Stick to the path outlined in the RFT and if it isn’t clear what that is, ask for clarification. 

Using newsletters to inform and entertain

Newsletters fall into the second general category of audiences. You’re not trying to persuade them so much as inform, and perhaps entertain.

Keep in mind, though, that unlike tenders and resumes, there is a very broad readership for newsletters all the way from the C-suite to the reception desk. Too much flippancy could be construed as lack of respect for the company.

Also keep in mind that company newsletters have a tendency to stray outside the private sphere of the office. Do you really want an Australian Financial Review journalist knowing that sales have plummeted for a third consecutive quarter? Any information that reflects negatively on the company should be reserved for more confidential communications.  

Writing features? Appeal to your audience

Perhaps the least demanding of the four writing forms in terms of audience is the feature article. While there can be persuasive arguments running through it, a feature article’s main function is to enlighten and entertain.

And the good thing is, it’s very easy to identify the audience of a particular magazine or publication. Let’s say you are writing a piece about the state of digitisation in the construction industry for Construction in Focus magazine’s print edition.

Your audience would be people occupying management positions across the construction industry. They are likely to be interested in the topic of digitisation, but given the traditional nature of the industry, may not know much about it.

You might start the article by explaining that digitisation can be something as simple as using an iPad to view blueprints or sign off on deliveries. Then you could give examples of how digitisation will affect the way they work, and the skills they will soon need to remain in the industry.

So, before setting out to write any document, think about the audience. Are you explicitly looking to persuade your audience to favour your tender submission, or simply trying to give them an overview of new technology in a feature article? How can you meet their needs and give them what they are looking for?

Regardless of your writing skills, knowing the audience you are addressing is the first step to better communication.

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