The #1 Rule of Writing: You Write for the Reader!
The company had hired Renita Lablount for her accomplished history in food production and development. She led a staff of 14, and her supervisor was extremely pleased with the successes of her department. A local newspaper heard about Renita’s latest project and asked if she could write a brief essay describing the project and the steps her team took to accomplish it. This excited Renita – and her supervisor – as it would be a chance to let everyday folks know the value and importance of what her company did. When she finished the writing, Renita read it aloud; these were the first few sentences: “Marco Food Science began a TGR bundled approach to the widespread eatable problem of Gastronortocny Inhalation Reflux. Using both of Seward’s groundbreaking DFD and XFP research studies, our team – The Food Research Division – successfully developed a vaccine to counteract apoptosis in the body. The result will be a prodigious eating experience many could previously not wallow.” She read this and smiled, for it was a great example of her education and experience in the industry. Her supervisor read it over, looked at Renita, and gave a “no-no” shake of the head. Renita was confused – what was wrong? Her supervisor explained that while Renita’s article would be easily understood by the company’s employees, the average person – the folks reading the local newspaper – would be completely confused. He indicated Renita forgot the #1 rule of writing: one writes for the reader; one must always be aware of the audience. A common error amongst college students, professionals, and others, it does have some easy fixes.
It’s easy to understand how this major oversight can occur. Just like Renita was excited to put her education and experience into print, many folks are so excited by or focused on an opportunity to showcase their backgrounds. There is nothing wrong with this passion; in fact, it can help guide a written product into success. Yet this must also be tempered by understanding the readers, the ultimate end to what is written. For if the readers – their interests, their expectations, their knowledge – of the written content is overlooked, what began for the writer as an obvious approach could result in total failure simply because the reader was ignored. Fortunately, as Renita learned from her supervisor, the steps to assure the reader is always a consideration in the writing are rather straightforward and simple.
This is the guide Renita was given to assure she would always write for the reader, a guide that will accomplish the same for any writer:
- Know the audience. It’s crucial to know the makeup of the audience the writing will reach. Knowing the audience helps make decisions about what information to share, which details to include, and the tone you use. What do they enjoy? What are they worried about? What’s important to them? What frustrates them? How much do they already know about the topic? Tip: Jot notes on this; memory is okay, but fleeting. With the notes, there is solid information for immediate recall. This will help guide all components of the writing, so it syncs with the audience.
- Include only information the audience would want to know or needs to know; offer value. There can be a tendency to toss in “everything plus the kitchen sink” on a topic; a writer might believe this will give the reader a comprehensive, all-inclusive encyclopedic view of the topic. There are two problems with this: (1) With too much information, the reader might get bored, not get the impact of what is most important, or skip some of the reading; (2) The writing becomes weak, as it has many major as well as minor points. By only including what is most salient for the reader, the writing offers solid value in each paragraph and continually connects with the reader.
- Be personal – employ content that connects with the reader. In any formal writing, the opening paragraph is most crucial, for it not only contains the thesis but also should begin with a “hook” to initially pique the reader’s interest about the topic. Once an audience profile is known, an introductory fact or creative question relating to the topic will immediately tell the reader the writing is specifically targeted for that person’s interest. Throughout the remaining essay other connecting tactics can be employed, such as telling a story, discussing a recent event, or offering a personal experience – each relating to the topic; these can help keep the reader engaged while also presenting the writer as knowing well the audience.
- Use language your audience will understand. Always ask the question, “Will the reader know or understand this?” Using acronyms, abbreviations, or technical language without brief descriptions (usually parenthetical) and vocabulary that might not be known by a reader will result in confusion for the reader, something that should never occur.
- Read the writing – aloud; think of your writing as if you are the reader, with no knowledge of the subject. When the writing is complete, take a break for an hour or so, then come back: this will allow you to read the product as the reader, not as the author; doing this can result in noticing errors, shortfalls, and omissions the writer may not consider. Also: read the writing aloud (hearing the writing can give a better sense of tone, vocabulary, and ”Does this make sense?” than would a silent read); have a second pair of eyes read it (“Have I reached my targeted audience throughout?” “Are there suggested changes to improve the writing?”); and read as if no knowledge of the subject existed for the reader (“Is this easily understood?” “Are all the major points included?”). Consider these reads the final “frosting” on the “cake!”
- Seek out resources. There are credible resources to help in determining how to understand an audience, how to write for an audience. An excellent one on audience and purpose can be found in the PG Writing Center: Audience and Purpose.
As for Renita, she followed her supervisor’s advice and did a rewrite. The result received a thumbs up from the supervisor and many nice responses from the local newspaper’s readers. This is what she wrote:
“Folks reading this who have difficulty eating due to discomfort by not being able to swallow all food, take heart! Marco Food Science began a year-long study of the widespread eating problem of coughing up food (medical name: Gastronortocny Inhalation Reflux). Using the groundbreaking research studies of Dr. Sonya Rinaldo, Senior Food Research Scientist for American Foods, our team – The Food Research Division – successfully developed a vaccine to counteract this condition in the body. The result will be an enjoyable eating experience many could previously not experience.”
Renita learned what is most important for all writers: writing for the reader, never the author, will assure a written product that is always on target. The end result will be a smiling, engaged, and satisfied reader!