Why You Need to Understand Your Readers Before You Start Writing

Knowing your document’s intended reading audience before you begin writing will always help you write more effective documentation. There are three simple questions you should always ask before you start writing:

- Who is your audience?
- What is the purpose of the document?
- What language and format is my reader expecting? 

The answer to the first two questions will assist you in answering the third question, which really is the heart of your document – it’s content, style and language. 

Who is your audience?

The first step before you write is to determine the audience for whom you are writing. If you don’t do this, your document has the potential to be misunderstood, criticised or even fail to convey your message. At worst, a wrong decision can be made based on the information you provided in your document and this can negatively impact you. 

So determining your audience is something you need to do first. For example, are you writing for job recruiters, your boss, a client, a technology expert, the Chief Executive, or the floor manager? Knowing this information helps you determine the content and form of your document.

What is the purpose of the document?

Also ask yourself a simple question before you start writing: Why are you writing the document? You need this “purpose” to determine what content you include. It could be a simple sentence to remind you of the question you are trying to answer with your writing. Keeping this answer on a note beside your document can be a useful reference in the cases where you get a “mental block” or can’t decide whether particular content should really be included. 

For example, there is no point in explaining the definition of a technical topic if your audience are domain experts with detailed knowledge of the subject matter. However, if you are reaching out to the Chief Executive that doesn’t have any background on the topic, you may need to include some information on it.

What language and format is your reader expecting?

Being armed with the answers to the above two questions will help you deal with the third issue, and that is to understand what sort of language your audience normally uses. This way you can appropriately pitch the tone and style of your writing. However, if you are in doubt, using simple English is best. Try and put yourself in their shoes and re-read what you have written. Will they understand the language or terminology? If not, you may need to re-word or explain the words, meanings and abbreviations in more detail.

The audience you are writing for may also dictate what style of document you need to write – either style or format. This could be a job application, memo, report or general correspondence. Make sure you obtain this information before you start, as formatting your document to this style does take time, and you don’t want to have to rewrite it.

These are three simple steps in helping you kick off your document writing. If you have the answers to them before you begin your writing, it can help you to be more effective and efficient with your writing efforts.

Samantha Yee
Tech Edit


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