Posted by: wordsmithsuk | November 30, 2010

Why it’s important to think about who is going to read your document

If you are really going to engage readers and encourage them to respond to your communications, you have to talk to them as people. The approach you take and the words you use must be determined by the characteristics and needs of the person or people to whom, or for whom, you are writing.

It’s useful to start by asking – and answering – a number of questions, for example:

  • Who is going to read your document? Is it one person or a number of people?
  • What do they already know about the subject? What do they need to know?
  • Does your reader understand technical terms? Do you need to avoid or explain specialised terms or jargon?
  • What motivates them? How can you get them interested?
  • What objections might they raise to the information you are putting forward? How can you anticipate and deal with any such problems.
  • What you want your reader to do? If you want them to take action, you need to spell it out.

For complex documents or marketing material, it is valuable to build up a reader profile: a pen picture of the person or people with whom you are trying to communicate. I usually create a Mind Map or spider diagram showing the main characteristics of my readers – or typical readers. This profile will include features such as gender, age, educational background, employment status, likes/dislikes, skills, qualities,  current knowledge of or feelings about the current topic and so on.

Keeping a clear picture of your reader or readers in mind will help to ensure that your writing stays focused on what they need to know – rather than on what you want to tell them! Remember that many business documents will have more than one reader, which makes the process a bit more complex. However, it’s still vital to analyse the needs and expectations of each reader or group of readers.

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