The Writer as Salesperson:
Knowing Your Audience
Today's Snack: You never have to sell a young person on a snack of
cookies and milk!
Print out grid at the
end of this Treat,
or give each student a
piece of paper and
duplicate the grid on
a whiteboard | Pen or pencil
do writers sometimes fail to zero in on their focus, and their writing fails
because it is too vague, bland or confusing?
because they haven't zeroed in on the READER. That's the first thing you have
to do, in planning a piece of writing.
have to figure out who is going to read your writing, and how best to tell the
reader what the reader needs to know, in a way that the reader will respond to
like being a salesman. You wouldn't dress in your basketball uniform and speak
in rap if you were trying to sell an important business on buying your
company's $50 million airplane.
the same way, if you were trying to sell a music company executive on your
great new hip-hop song that you would like to record, you wouldn't dress up
like someone from 500 years ago in merrie olde England and speak in Olde
English: "Forsooth, wouldst thou lend
thine ear to mine hip-hop song?"
just smart to match your writing plan and style to the audience, so that your
reader will feel comfortable and cared about. Ask yourself questions like
does my reader already know about this subject?
something new and exciting that my reader might be most excited to learn
from what I write?
- How do
I want my reader to feel: Interested? Satisfied? Informed? Excited? How
facts or details should I include in order to get that response from my
- How do
I NOT want my reader to feel: Bored? Confused? Disappointed? Frustrated? Mad about a waste of
time? Pity for my lousy spelling skills?
should I avoid, in my writing, so that the reader doesn't respond
a lot you can do to match your writing to your audience, and "sell" your
message. Match your word choices with mental images you think the audience will
like. Match the simplicity or complexity of your sentences to how young or old
they are, and how much education they have had. Match your tone and pacing to
your audience, as well as to the topic. You wouldn't write in a humorous tone
about a serious subject like depression, for example.
it a good match! Then your reader will be ready to learn from you.
writing, on the other hand, fails to focus on the reader. Bad writing is self-centered.
It puts everything into the expression of the idea, and nothing into making
sure the idea gets across. Readers don't see why they need to keep reading
because they're not getting anything out of it. It's a bad "sell."
even if you write and write for hours, and produce thousands of words, if you
don't take aim at, and connect with, your reader, then your words won't have
much meaning. All that work will go for nothing. What a waste!
It's much better to plan your writing so that you can connect
with your reader. Meeting the reader's needs should take center stage no matter
what form of writing you choose: a report, a memo, a short story, a news story,
a letter, a proposal, instructions, an ad, or whatever.
So how do you know your audience? Simple! You ask!
Just as an actor or actress always has to understand the
character's motivation - where he or she is coming from - in order to deliver
the lines and act the part well, a writer has to understand the reader's
motivation. Why would a reader choose to read what you are going to write? What
would make the content understandable? How can you make your writing
interesting and captivating to your specific reader?
For the most part, you're writing for your teacher when
you write school assignments. So that's pretty easy: to meet your teacher's needs
as the reader of your writing, you just have to follow the instructions of the
assignment. Then your teacher will feel that you have learned something. Success!
Similarly, a lot of the assignments you write in school
are for your fellow students. You know a lot about them, too - probably even
more than you know your teacher. So again, you can easily plan your assignment and
your writing style to meet their needs, if other students are your audience.
But for everything else you write, with other kinds of
audiences outside of school, you have to ask yourself who that reader is, what
that reader might want to know, and how you could best teach that information
or express those emotions to that reader.
If you don't know the answers to those questions, and if
you have time or a way to do this, ask the reader!
Look at the example, below. Now fill in the blanks for
three more types of audiences, and three more topics that you can think of,
that would be of interest to those audiences, or that they need to know.
you have three more audiences and three more topics, get with a partner, and
brainstorm (1) what each of those three specific audiences would need to know
about those three topics, (2) what format you could use to best communicate in
writing with them, and (3) why you chose that format.
choose your favorite match, and write in that format, focused right on your
target audience. Share with the group, and get their feedback.
the future, whenever you sit down to write, always ask yourself first: WHO IS
GOING TO READ THIS? And then you'll be ready to roll.
Audience Topic Needs
to Know Format &
Preschoolers Safety How to
cross a street; Write new words
to ride a trike; to a kids'
with a buddy easy to