CONSIDER THE AUDIENCE – Holly Foster Media

CONSIDER THE AUDIENCE

As long as I can remember, I was told I should “consider the audience.” The rule applies to all types of communication: conversations, emails, presentations, and writing in general. Tailor the message to fit the audience; it’s good advice.

As a writer, the first step in considering your audience is understanding how they factor into the process. Writing consists of three components: the writer, the message, and the reader. All three are equally important, but without the reader delivery is not possible.

But who, exactly, is the reader?

In his book On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, author William Zinsser explains:

“Who is this elusive creature, the reader? The reader is someone with an attention span of about 30 seconds – a person assailed by many forces competing for attention.” (Zinsser, 2016).

Consider your own attention span. How much of your valuable time do you invest in reading a written piece if it doesn’t capture you quickly? Sure, you may hang in there if the subject matter interests you, but you won’t stick around very long if the writer makes it difficult for you to understand their message.

Despite the reader’s attention deficit, it is the writer’s responsibility to keep them engaged. A writer’s words are their tools, and as Zinsser observes, you will lose your reader if you don’t use those tools carefully.

Surely this is the “consider the audience” advice that is so cliché. If we tailor our message according to the demographics of our reader, we’re more likely to deliver the message successfully, right?

Zinsser disagrees. Later in his book he says:

“You are writing for yourself. Don’t try to visualize the great mass audience. There is no such audience – every reader is a different person” (Zinsser, 2016).

He admits his advice seems like a paradox and adds, “How can you think carefully about not losing the reader and still be carefree about his opinion? I assure you that they are separate processes.”

It is a difference of mechanics (and semantics). Readers will abandon ship if the message isn’t clear, so the writer must “consider the audience” by mastering their ability to write well. They must plan their message carefully and deliver it straight away as to not waste the reader’s time. Instead, the writer should treat their audience with respect by delighting them with a message that is (hopefully) personal and passionate.

Good writing takes time; writing succinctly takes even longer.

Earlier I confessed that I believe the advice of considering the audience to be good; that I tailor the message to fit the audience. That’s not exactly true.

Instead, consider this:

Tailoring my message to fit the audience makes it sound like I change the content depending on who I’m talking to. And let’s face it – that just wouldn’t be right. At best it would be wishy-washy; at worst it would be lying.

What I mean to say is that I tailor HOW I write to deliver a message that appeals to the reader. I change the HOW not the WHAT. I try to be clear and concise; not verbose. I add stories to make the content relatable. I work hard to keep it interesting.

The bottom line is this. When you write, consider your audience’s demeanor and disposition but capture their attention by mastering the tools of writing. Capture their attention, by writing well.

Consider the audience, but write for yourself.

until nxt time …

References

Zinsser, W. (2016). On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.

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