“Be mindful of your audience,” my teachers would tell me. “Write to your peers/your elders/your town/your country/etc.,” they would encourage our class. “Don’t use language that your audience wouldn’t use.”
And I have to agree that as a writer you should be mindful of your audience. Knowing your audience helps you produce better, more readable content for them. Having better writing (in this case, “better” means tailored writing) gives you the opportunity to reach more readers.
Even now as I’m typing this out, I couldn’t tell you what kind of a reader you are. I don’t know who is actually reading my blog posts (maybe someday I will figure out if Google Analytics can tell me). But I can tell you that I have a picture of who I think I’m writing to, who I think you are. You are my audience, and I am writing to you.
And maybe someday I’ll elaborate on how to write to an audience. But for today, let’s figure out how we determine our reading audience.
What is an audience?
I know you know that an audience is a group of people. Usually, an audience is similar in some way:
- Age. You can classify people by grouping them by age. The older you get, usually the less precise you have to be. So you might target ages 13-17 (4 years), 18-25 (7 years), 25-35 (10 years), 35-50 (15 years), and so on. You can always zoom in or out on an age group in your audience.
- Life Experience. This is often correlated with age but isn’t necessarily the same. Phases of life come with their own trials and needs. Moms, single or not, all share in the delight and horror of giving birth. College students share the drudgery and joy of classes and mid-term exams.
- Gender. Girls think differently than boys, and people with varying genders also tend to read differently. Your audience may include a breath of gender, or target a small sliver of the spectrum.
- Location. People are united by continent, nation, region, state, city, suburb, etc. Even globally-read writing tends to have been targeted to a localized audience.
- Occupation or interests. People of all ages are interested in reading about cars. An audience in the car repair industry will need different lingo and emphases than an audience in the car selling industry, but these groups will be more similar than the beauty industry.
- Expertise. Writing about something to a group of people who already are familiar with your subject matter is different than writing about it to a group of people who are strangers to the concept. Both groups are identifiable by their knowledge (or lack thereof) about a subject.
These are a wide way of looking at an audience. Within each level of demographics, you can always narrow in or zoom out to determine who you’re writing to.
A lot of writing advice I’ve seen recommends that you write to one person. Maybe you write to a high schooler who only has one parent and is interested in computers and programming. Most of our school writing is written to our teachers. Most of our just-for-fun writing is written to ourselves.
When should I consider my audience?
It is good to know your audience before you write a word because you can tailor your writing from the get-go. Even having a broad idea of who your audience is when you’re planning your writing project is helpful.
If you don’t know before you’ve written a piece, seriously consider your audience first in the revision phase (so you can tailor your language and complexity to your readership), and second in the promoting phase (so you sell your work to an interested audience).
How do I determine my audience?
Many nonfiction writing assignments come with a pre-determined audience. If you’re writing a blog post for a health and wellness blog, you know you’re writing to people who are interested in being healthier who may have more or less experience with different methodologies. If you’re writing a dissertation, you know you’re writing to academics who are highly trained in your field.
Here’s what you should do if you have a broad, pre-determined audience:
- See what the audience has read before you. Skim over some of the other posts on the health blog; look at other student’s work.
- Decide what’s unique about your piece. Compared to what you’ve read, what does your writing offer this audience? Capitalize on it.
- Target a narrower audience. Your wide audience may be dads. Consider writing specifically to stay-at-home dads, while offering advice useful to all dads. Do this with care.
Writing creatively often means you won’t have a predetermined audience. And even if you’ve been writing enough to garner an audience, not all of your works may cater to that audience. So here’s a couple thoughts to help you figure out who your audience is if you’re writing creatively:
- Genre-define your audience. Young Adult, Sci-Fi, and Memoir as genres all have broadly pre-determined audiences. Start by writing to that broad audience.
- Narrow in during revision. Choose a smaller part of your broad audience and write for them as you revise.
- Alternately, only advertise to your audience after you’ve finished your piece. Decide who will be interested in your work, and try to sell it to them.
What do you think? How do you consider your audience when you write? How do you determine your audience? Share in the comments!