Last night, my husband was watching a video on woodworking that detailed different screws and how they are used for specific purposes. The video talked about screws, wood glue, and nails; then dove deeper into the parts of the screw (that’s about where I stopped listening). Seeing him completely engrossed in the video highlighted for me the fact that, whether you are creating a YouTube video, writing a technical report, or composing a set of instructions, there is truly an audience for everything and, as the author, you need to know who your audience is and how to talk to them.
When you are composing a technical document, you may be focused on getting the information on paper and out the door. But, if you want the reader to act in a specific way (whether it be to accept your proposal, follow the procedures, approve your permit request, or build your gadget to spec), you need make sure you are writing with your audience in mind. The wants and needs of the reader are unique to the type and purpose of the document – and writing to your audience is essential to advancing your cause.
So, how do you know who you are writing to and what their needs might be? Before you begin writing, it is beneficial to craft an image in your head of who the audience is:
- Why are they reading?
- How are they using the document and included information?
- How much time are they spending reading?
- Where will they be reading?
- What is their age/gender/socio-economic status?
- What is their level of education or knowledge of the topic?
- What is their job title or role?
- What is their field of expertise?
- Do they know the jargon specific to the topic?
- Do they know the backstory?
- How many readers will there be – and do they all match the same profile?
- Who is the secondary or tertiary audience? Who else might use this document?
- What is going to get them excited about your document and make them act?
If you visualize your audience, you have a better understanding of how and what you need to write. Knowing your audience dictates the language (jargon or no jargon), the amount of detail (are they following step-by-step instructions or do they only care about the price), and the format (laminated instructions for field personnel or a bound document with tabbed dividers for the CEO).
The goal of any communication is to get the reader to act – make a decision, buy the gizmo, learn something new, or follow these steps – and the document (or YouTube video) you present needs to convey your message and intent while speaking their language.