Writing for public consumption is not an easy feat. Whatever you’re trying to tell people, it’s the way you tell them that will often be most important. You need to set up expectations and offer answers if you’re going to convince your audience. Three key concepts to consider before sitting down to write are audience, tone and purpose. A firm understanding of where you sit with each of these can make all the difference between a good piece of writing and a great one.
First things first: who are you writing for? In some cases this will be an easy one. If you’re selling a product, it’s potential customers; if you’re writing a press release, it’s the journalists who might pick it up. But audience is rarely this simple (and even these examples are not really that straightforward). Before you can start writing you need to think about who your ideal reader is. Who are you trying to reach? What kind of questions are they likely to ask? Is it a technical audience who will understand industry-specific terminology, or are you aiming for a wider readership? Try to identify one group of people, and write for them. While it’s important to not have too many ‘voices’ across your business, you will certainly benefit from tailoring your approach to the needs of the group you’re most interested in.
Once you’ve figured out who you’re talking to, you need to think about how you’re going to talk to them. This is more subtle than the audience question: instead of thinking about who they are, you’re thinking about who you are. What role do you want to play in the lives of your audience? Are you informative and factual, or are you a friendly and relatable? There are ways of balancing these two, but you can’t really fully commit to being both. Are you trying to entertain your audience, or help them to understand a complex issue? Thinking about tone will also help you decide what type of writing will work best for you. Tone can be very different between social media, blog posts, web pages, email and so on. You can choose quite different tones depending on which channel you use, but consistency within the channel is important. So tone is really a question of brand identity: what do you want people to think of you when they’ve read your text?
This one really is as simple as it sounds. What are you trying to achieve by putting a piece of writing out into the world? Are you hoping to inspire change, call to action, or passively inform? Educate, encourage, or enjoin? Perhaps you simply want to tell people about something you’re doing that you think is pretty great. But whatever it is you’re saying, you need to decide what you want the reader to do, think or feel by the end of your piece. This is likely to vary considerably between pieces, so you need to be sure you’re not falling back on your usual assumptions. Really interrogate yourself as to what outcome you’re looking for, and make sure your words work to bring that about.
In summary, before you start writing you need to think about who you’re writing for, who you want to be for them, and what you want them to do. Once you’ve thought this through, everything else will fall into place.
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