When you decide that you have a need to communicate, you usually start with two things in mind: who and why. Who is your intended audience and what is your purpose for writing. Both audience and purpose should guide the development of your communication, but it is particularly important to know your audience well and to keep the focus on that person or group of people as you plan and write your communication. This focus helps ensure that your message will be read, understood, and accepted.
Knowing as much about your audience as possible will help you determine a variety of things, such as what information to include, the tone and level of formality you apply, and even the words you use. The more you understand your audience, the more you can anticipate their reactions, questions, and acceptance of your message.
The first thing you need to establish is how much your audience knows about your subject. A high-context audience knows a great deal. As you write for this audience, you can assume that the background and situation are already known and understood. You can summarize those things in a general way. On the other hand, low-context readers know little about your subject. For these readers, you need to provide the appropriate level of background and you may need to describe the situation in more depth so they understand what you’re talking about.
It’s helpful to keep developing a profile of your audience so you can make strategic choices as you write. Your goal is to give them the right amount of information, neither too much nor too little, and anticipate how they are likely to engage with your message.
Here are some questions you can you use to profile your intended audience:
- What position and roles do audience members hold?
- How influential are they and who are they influenced by?
- What kind of mindset or attitude do they have in general? Toward your particular subject specifically?
- Are they likely to react positively or negatively to your message?
- Are they usually open to new ideas or do they resist change?
An audience analysis will also help you balance “need to know” with “want to tell.” You know your subject in depth and you may be inclined to include a lot of information. Take an inventory of what you know and determine what your audience needs to know to make an informed decision. Too much information can be as ineffective as too little information.
Ultimately, knowing your audience will help you engage them in your message and you’ll be more likely to get the reaction you are looking for.