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The Absolutely Literate blog is for people interested in writing, editing, design, history and family history.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Editing for Audience and Purpose

To follow up Truth and Accuracy I need to talk about editing for purpose and occasion but first I really need to talk about audience. Writing is all about communication and in order to communicate well we need to build a bridge for our reader. Too often when drafting our work we get too inside our own heads and build a wall instead of a bridge.

If you have not done this already define your primary audience. What do you know about them? Education, interests, age? Who is your secondary audience?

For me, as a history writer, I tend to assume that my primary audience are people who are interested in history and have their own area of expertise that may not be the area of expertise of my own work or that of an author with whom I am working. My secondary audience are people who are newer to history; people that we are hoping to engage and encourage.

Then I need to ask the following questions:

  1. Have I considered their needs in the creation of my work? Have I explained jargon and terminology? Do I need maps, a glossary, diagrams?
  2. Does the document reflect the interests of my audience?
  3. Have I created a relationship with your audience?
  4. Is my document organized in such a way that you do not lose your reader?
  5. Are all the facts relevant?
  6. Is the information comprehensive?


What is the purpose of your piece? Is it to persuade? Persuasive writing is all about the audience as there is a call to action. You want your reader to read, understand, and be persuaded. Ask yourself, what does your audience need? What do they fear?

Is your purpose to inform? Informational pieces focus on the subject but as a writer you still need to build the bridge to your reader. The writer needs to ensure they do not assume a higher base knowledge and lose their audience or, alternatively, underestimating their base knowledge and boring or insulting their audience.

Is your writing in response to a request? Again, you need to ask what information your audience needs. You also need to ask why your audience requested the information and how they intend to you the information once received.

Is it for an audience that had not requested information? This tends to be items like press releases, newsletters, and of course, blogs. Ask yourself, why does my audience need this information? How will my audience use this information?

Final Thoughts

Now that you have revisited your audience you are prepared to revise to ensure that it suits their needs. Writing is about communication and thus having a clear picture of our audience is key. If it helps you to cut out faces from magazines to give your audience a face - do it. Use whatever tricks you need to keep your audience in mind as you write and revise.

Let me know your tips.

Advanced Study in Writing for Business and the Professions by Anne Hungerford (course material)
Writing With Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process by Peter Elbow

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