Monday, October 18, 2010

Match Your Message to Your Medium

How often do you consider your audience as you’re writing? Probably not as often as you should. I critiqued an article last week for a homeschooling newsletter and I was struck by two things. First, the depth of the research and the genius behind the conclusions the author drew. And . . . the boring way she conveyed that information. Ouch. As difficult as it was to share my insights without discouraging this budding writer, we all know how hard it was to receive this kind of a critique.

Tough stuff, but we’ve all tried to wade through writing so formal you had to wear a suit and tie to read it. The facts are there, but polished to the point where there’s no life left in the words. Here are some tips to avoid missing the mark.
  • Define your audience. You have to have a clear picture of who you’re writing to. This means you need to familiarize yourself with the publication or website or group. A little pre-writing can save you a disappointing rejection.
  • Define the mood. Yes, even non-fiction has emotion. It’s more subtle, but it’s there. For example, when I write for a Do It Yourself website I keep the articles upbeat and encouraging. The purpose of the website is to let people know they can accomplish a particular project—not keep them from even trying.
  • Define the gender and the age. Men and women express themselves differently and our writing needs to reflect that. I spent a year as managing editor for men’s college magazine and I discovered this first hand. I finally had to come up with two lists or, word pools (which I explained in a previous post), labeled—Girlie Words and Man Speak.
Now it’s your turn—how do you tune into your audience?
Don’t forget to join the conversation!


  1. " formal you had to wear a suit and tie to read it." Brilliant!!

    And yes, I know exactly what you mean. I'm a grandmother of four, been married 41 years, and until recently I wrote for Christian Single magazine. Now THAT tested my knowing-your-audience skills!

  2. Those tough critiques are hard to share, I'm sure, but I'd much rather hear something to improve my writing than "That's good" when it's not. Thanks for posting helpful insights.

  3. Edie, Your insight is so true. It is a simple concept, yet writers new to this vocation seem to have a difficult time accepting the simplicity. I know from personal experience. I thought the more flowery (LOL) my words, the more I sounded like a writer. Through Vonda's encouragement I began writing a daily devotional blog, Morning Glory. Out of necessity (because it was daily), I began writing the words the way I speak. I found great freedom and learned to flow with the words pouring from my heart, rather than trying to write a world renowned classic! I still have SO much to learn, but learning my voice and who I want to "talk" to has certainly helped my journey.

    Bless you Edie!

  4. Ah, good ol' technical writing class: define and communicate to your specific audience. I think in some ways, nonfiction writing requires this understanding more than fiction. In fiction you should have an idea of what the publisher you prints (i.e. don't send your prairie romance to Marcher Lord Press).

    However, with nonfiction you really have to define how much your intended audience might know about your subject matter in advance, how much background material you should provide, and what style of prose will best speak to the average reader. Writing help documentation, it can be a challenge to learn enough to write the material without losing your perspective as a documentation user.