How to Write for your Audience

I’ve been writing professionally for more than 20 years – reports, presentations, research papers, business plans, course content for an Executive MBA program, newspaper articles, web content, and books. Writing is a big topic, so I’m going to constrain my comments to ‘how to write an informational article or web page’. These two writing tasks are very similar in approach and content, by the way.

Why should you care about knowing how to write? Because being able to research, organize and present information so another party can easily understand it is a valuable asset. No matter your area of work, getting your point across in writing is a skill to be cultivated. You will need to be able to do this for your own website, for example.

I’ve had a ‘web presence’ since 2005. Despite my several years of writing experience at the time, my first couple attempts at creating a website were less than successful.

That was primarily because I did not understand how to attract traffic to my site. Then, while reading about a web page hosting service called Solo Build It! I learned a formula: 

Content=>Traffic=>Pre-Sell=>Monetize.

The ‘Content meant my website needed to provide a reason for people to visit; I had to provide something of value in return for visitors’ time and attention. I learned I could do that by providing articles on topics of interest to the visitors I wanted to attract i.e. content.

How do you get started? You start with a couple pre-writing tasks:

1 – identify your topic, and

2 – assess your audience.

If you re-read the preceding paragraph, you will probably realize these two things are linked; that is, your topic has to be of interest to your desired audience and should address an issue or concern of importance to them (and you)

Research. You may or may not need to do some research to flesh out your topic, depending on your own knowledge of the topic. Sometimes a quick Google search is all you need to see how other authors are approaching a topic. At other times you may want to dig up some statistics or references to support your article.

Organize your Content Using a Simple Format

Finally, with the preliminaries out of the way, it’s time to assemble your article. A format I like to use for short-form content is:

WHAT - SO WHAT – NOW WHAT – and WHAT IF

What– you introduce the topic to your audience, and explain application, scope and limitations if any. Look up top, the very first paragraph of this article is all about the 'what'.

The next couple paragraphs are the So What i.e. I explain why learning how to write is a good skill to acquire. If you can, it’s a good idea to use a personal story (e.g. para 3 and 4) to demonstrate your own 'So What'.

Now What is the description of the steps necessary for your audience to enact your advice or information or reproduce your results. In this article, the 'Now What' starts in paragraph 5.

The last part, What If, describes problems or roadblocks that may confront your readers when following your guidance.

For example, maybe your audience can’t afford fancy and expensive word processing software to write and spellcheck their articles. You could suggest some free or low-cost alternatives as a possible solution, or writing at a public library, or getting a student version of Word etc. etc.

There’s another common What If- what if you turn out to be no good at writing? Simple answer; everybody sucked at writing when they started. You learn how to write by writing. You get better by doing more of it.

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