Writers often conflate the reader with their audience. While those two do overlap in most regards, there are some very big differences, and you need to be sure that your writing reflects that.
What are you writing? The context of your work will guide you to who your audience is, and who you are writing for. If you are writing a technical manual for first-time users trying to assemble a garbage disposal, for example, your writing will be more focused on general terms, with an easier to understand lexicon, rather than a manual filled with unexplained jargon.
If you’re writing general fiction, then your audience and reader changes. For general fiction, think about any novel you read in high school English classes — To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, etc. You need to have a more diverse and accessible language to entice more people to pick up the book.
Your context reflects how and why you’re writing. But you should be aware that the difference between a “reader” and your “audience” also impacts how you write.
What is a “Reader”?
The reader is, simply, the person reading your writing. Seems pretty easy, right? Well, yes and no. The reader is generally a “layperson” or someone without too much background inform them on the topic at hand. They are the most general population reading your material. They are the ones who pick up your general fiction book based on a friend’s recommendation. They are the ones trying to assemble a garbage disposal for the first time. They are the General Audience.
You will find most of the people who read your writing are the General Audience. Imagine this: You are watching a TV show about computer hackers. The main character (MC), who is shown to be the most capable and knowledgeable hacker on the show, asks the side character (SC) what she is doing. The SC explains in simple terms to the MC what she is doing and why it matters. This information is not for the MC, who, again, has the most experience. It is for us, the General Audience, or Reader of the show. Not everyone who tunes in will be a computer expert, and the show needs to slow down and explain some things. This is a little bit of sloppy writing, but it gets the point across.
Your General Audience or Reader will be the biggest population to look at your material, and, unless you’re specifically writing to a different audience, you will need to keep in mind that sometimes technical lingo can be toned down. But, as always, never underestimate the reader.
Who is Your “Audience”?
These are the people who are attracted to your writing. They are the crime fiction aficionados, the science fiction fanatics, the nonfiction fans. And this really, really matters. If you are writing for a niche genre or a niche group of people, then chances are your writing doesn’t need to be as explained as if you are hoping every single person who passes by will pick it up.
If you are writing a report on different B2B practices for a business who specializes in B2B practices, you don’t need to stop and explain every piece of terminology. Your context is that these people — your audience — will understand what you’re talking about if it is common in their world. Likewise, if you introduce new ideas, new substances, then that will need explaining.
Company reports, niche articles to be peer-reviewed and mission statements are great examples of a pre-determined audience who has a pre-determined amount of background in your subject.
Think about who your audience is going to be. Who will read this writing? Don’t underestimate the audience, or the reader, because that just drives them away. Nobody wants to drag through a 400-page novel where every other word is broken down and described meticulously as if the person reading it can’t quite grasp the words you’ve used.
If you need to stop and explain every single phrase or word, then you’re probably writing for the wrong audience.
When I start writing, I map out who I want to be reading my material. In graduate school, they teach you about different audiences and assuming their backgrounds. This is accomplished through different writing styles and how it impacts the audience or reader.
If you’re unsure about how to write for a specific audience, I suggest taking a look at a writing prompt. Figure out, based on the writing prompt, who you would be writing for. Then focus on that audience member. Again, first drafts are not last drafts, and changes can be made. But it makes for fun practice.
Do you have any other tips and tricks for writing to a specific audience? Leave your comments down below!