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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



Why do writers sometimes fail to zero in on their focus, and their writing fails because it is too vague, bland or confusing?


Probably because they haven't zeroed in on the READER. That's the first thing you have to do, in planning a piece of writing.


You 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 and appreciate.


It's 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.


In 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?"


It's 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 these:



  • What does my reader already know about this subject?



  • What's 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 else?




  • What facts or details should I include in order to get that response from my reader?




  • 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?





  • What should I avoid, in my writing, so that the reader doesn't respond negatively?




There's 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.


Make it a good match! Then your reader will be ready to learn from you.


Bad 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."


So 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.


Once 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.


Then choose your favorite match, and write in that format, focused right on your target audience. Share with the group, and get their feedback.


In 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 & Reason


Preschoolers           Safety         How to cross a street;          Write new words

                                                Where to ride a trike;            to a kids' song;

                                                Swim with a buddy               easy to remember





















By Susan Darst Williams • • Writing • İ 2010


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