Writing for a Specific Audience
by Sally Hu, Writing Consultant
(printable version here)
The person, people, or company that you are writing to will dictate what you will write and how you will write it. Especially in the world of business, you have to pay special attention to your target audience because the diction, content, and style of your writing could potentially cost you your job or get you sued - or even get you promoted. You have to take into account the extent of your audience's knowledge and your relationship with your audience. Here are some tips on how to approach writing for different audiences:
- Clients: When writing to a client, you have to keep a few things in mind.
- Most people do not know business terminology. You have to convey information in a simple manner that they can easily understand.
- You have to establish your credibility. If you use advanced jargon and concepts that your client cannot understand, he or she might be inclined to wonder if you are hiding something or if you are attempting to confuse them. You are dealing with other people's money; therefore, you must give the impression that you are trustworthy and knowledgeable.
- For the most part, you will be working for someone else. You need to assess your relationship with them. If you have a very close relationship with them, writing in a more informal manner may not be an issue. However, if you have a strictly professional relationship with them, you will need to be more formal and respectful in your writing.
- Colleagues: You will probably be working with people who are more or less as knowledgeable about business as you are. You must consider the range of their knowledge about the subject that you will be writing about, and write in a way that will get your message across without confusing or offending them. Keep in mind that regardless of the extent of their knowledge on an issue, you are still equals and must work together. Maintaining healthy relationships is necessary.
- Less knowledgeable colleagues: You might need to be careful about using advanced business terminology. You might also need to more thoroughly explain an issue that they might not quite understand. Do not do so in a condescending or pompous manner. Just explain in a way that they can grasp the idea easily.
- Equally knowledgeable colleagues: If you know that your audience knows as much as you do about the subject matter at hand, cut the details out and focus on the main point of your writing. Remember, writing clearly and concisely is important. Do not bore or distract your audience with too much additional information that they already know.
- More knowledgeable colleagues: Once again, consider the extent of their knowledge. If you know that your audience already has a thorough understanding of the subject, do not bother going in too much detail about it. You will probably be able to use complex businessjargon without having to explain what you mean.
- Subordinates: Although they work under you, be sure to address your subordinates respectfully and warmly. Your relationship with them can affect how well or how poorly they receive your message, especially if you are asking them to do something. Do not "sound preachy or parental" (Guffey).
- Management: Providing evidence to prove your point or persuade upper-level professionals is extremely important. You must establish your credibility and expertise about the issue that you are addressing. Writing in a formal and respectful manner also dictates how your message will be taken. (Guffey)
- Professors: Ask your professors about what their expectations for the assignment are. Mold your writing to fit their preferences, while also keeping in mind the implications of the assignment. Is it formal? Does it require extensive research? Are you to assume that your target audience is knowledgeable about the subject?
To reiterate, despite who your target audience is, you must consider and focus on these main points when addressing them:
- The extent of their knowledge on the subject
- Your relationship with whom you are addressing
- Your tone
- Establishing your credibility
- Preferences or qualities unique to your specific audience
Guffey, Mary Ellen. Business Communication: Process & Product. Mason, OH: Cengage Learning, 2008. Print.
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