This week's writing basics topic is: AUDIENCE.
Before you start to write, you need to consider your audience. This rule applies whether you are writing an article for publication in a magazine, working on a novel, slaving on a paper for a college class, composing a letter to the editor designed to persuade people to vote for socialized medicine or writing an email to your best friend. Think about it. You wouldn't use the same vocabulary and tone of voice for the magazine article as you would in the letter to your friend, would you? Not if you hoped to have the article published you wouldn't! I have had some college students who have handed in papers written with texting abbreviations (I kid you not), but they soon learned from their mistake. Those who didn't, failed the class. Yes, I'm one of those unreasonable English teachers who insist that students spell words in the traditional way rather than write r u going 2 the party 2 nite? IMHO, i think it'll b gr8t. LOL! This brings me back to the point. That sentence is perfectly acceptable when texted to a friend. It is not, however, appropriate in an academic essay.
Determining your target audience before you write will help you with several important writing decisions:
Here are some examples of what I mean. Let's say that you are writing an informative article about Painted Buntings. If your audience is adults, especially adults with an interest in birding, making the statement "A juvenile male Passerina Ciris is difficult to distinguish from the female as the coloration of the plumage is similar" would be quite acceptable. If, however, you are writing an article for Highlights for Children and your target audience is 9-12 year olds, the information needs to be conveyed differently, perhaps like this: "Young male Painted Buntings are called 'greenies' because their feathers are green just like young female Buntings, but when they grow up, the males become very colorful. They have red chests, green wings and dark blue heads." You can see from this example that not only is the vocabulary different, but the tone is different. The whole approach to conveying the information might be different as well since interested adults will tolerate dry facts while children won't. I advocate engaging your audience no matter what age, but it is especially important to entertain as well as inform when you are writing for children. Approach will vary as well based on the type of paper you are writing. How you approach explaining the findings of a five-year study on the benefits of carbohydrates will depend greatly on your audience. If you are writing a research report for a group of Registered Dieticians, your writing will be more formal in tone and academic in approach than if you are writing an informative article for a Health and Wellness newsletter with a "general public" readership. This brings up assumptions. How much do you have to define or explain to your audience? How much can you assume they know. For example, if you are writing about Dissociative Identity Disorder and your audience is "lay" people, then you will need to discuss the fact that this illness is commonly, if erroneously, called "Multiple Personality Disorder." If you are writing a paper about the same illness, but for a professional psychological journal and your audience is psychologists and psychiatrists, you will insult your audience by explaining what they already know.
So far I have discussed audience from a non-fiction writing perspective, but knowing your audience is vital to the fiction writer as well. The next post will address why.
Do you think about your audience before you write or do you write then try to find an audience?
Fiction writers: how important are audience age level and genre conventions to you? Why?