Welcome back to Write for Real People. Last time we looked at the first of three key questions to ask about your audience. They’re questions that can help you work out what you want to say. We started off simply with ‘Who are your audience?’.
This week we’re moving on to a second great question:
What do your audience need to know?
As a writer you have a message to communicate. Your job is to pass this information onto your readers. It sounds obvious, but it’s amazingly easy to miss out key details and leave your audience guessing.
Here’s an example of some information on a road sign:
There are road closures in this area for structural repairs. Diversions are available.
The writer has been quite stingy with the details here. Without good local knowledge, the reader might find it hard to understand this information. Which roads are closed and for how long? How do you find the diversion routes?
It would help if the writer could be more specific:
The Fortnal Bridge Road is closed from 1st to 30th May for structural repairs. For a diversion via the A21, please follow the yellow signs.
This is much more helpful.
Asking the question ‘What do the audience need to know?’ makes your writing efficient and effective.
Make a list of the key points you want to include in your writing and check them off as you go. Think of questions your readers might have about your topic and see if you can get all the answers in your written text.
Too much information?
There are some things that your audience just doesn’t need to know. As the writer, you have all the information, but only some of it will be important to your reader.
While some writers can be stingy with the details, others can be a little bit too generous…:
As announced on 18th March, the Fortnal Bridge Road has been closed by Wafflington Town Council from 1st to 30th May for structural repairs to the bridge’s left masonry joint and brickwork. For a diversion via the A21, please follow the yellow signs. The councillors and local highway authorities would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused.
If this information was in a bridge enthusiasts’ magazine, the high level of detail might be appropriate.
For most people, these extra facts add nothing. They actually make it harder to pick out the useful information.
Good writers do this filtering first, and only give the reader what they need to know.
This is why we started with ‘Who are your audience?’ as the first question. It all begins with using your imagination and getting into your readers’ heads.
Work out who they are and what they need to know, and the rest will come naturally.
Are you stingy or generous when it comes to details in your writing? Let me know in the comments below…