Any experienced writer or editor will tell you that the first rule of good writing is to know your audience. For whom are you writing? What motivates them to read your material? How can you make your topic relevant to your readers?
This rule applies no matter what you’re writing. Whether it’s a press release, a feature article, or a blog post, begin with your audience in mind.
I wish it were that simple.
In the world of corporate communications, “writing for your audience” often takes a back seat to political correctness and the whims of executives. Be honest: Is that ad copy you’ve been working on for prospects, or for your CEO? Is that press release for reporters, or for your board of directors?
In a corporate environment, it can be tough to remember that your audience is not
your boss, but the “end user” of what you’ve written. Here are a few things you can try:
Use the words your audience would use when describing your product.
For example, the company I work for sells malpractice insurance for physicians. But of course, we can’t call it “malpractice insurance.” It’s “medical professional liability insurance,” as it’s known in the industry. And we’ve now been directed to call it “medical professional liability insurance” on our website, in our press releases, and in our marketing materials. To our customers, it’s “malpractice insurance.” So what should we call it?
Your customers are people; treat them that way.
The words we use to describe our customers can often de-humanize them. To use the insurance company example again, I’ve often heard our customers referred to as “insureds” in letters or emails, “as an insured, you enjoy the benefits of…” Insureds? Our customers don’t think of themselves as “insureds.” They’re physicians who need our product so they can do their jobs. We should refer to them as physicians.
Writing informally is not dumbing down.
In “Letting Go of the Words,” Ginny Redish writes: “It’s communicating clearly. It’s writing so that busy people can understand what you are saying the first time that they read it.” Remember, it’s OK to use the plural pronouns “we,” “us,” and “our.”
Consider the audience’s reading capacity.
The audience we write for—physicians—is highly educated, reading at advanced levels. But we have to consider when and under what circumstances they will be reading our material. Will it be at the end of a long day? Do they have a stack of other publications on their desks? Will they want to read an article if it’s too wordy or uses overly technical language?
readers, how do you “keep it real” for your audience?
Laura Hale Brockway is a medical writer and editor from Austin, Texas. She is also the author of the writing/editing/random thoughts blog, impertinentremarks.com.