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know your audience

How to Write for People You Don’t Know

In business, we are often asked to write to people we don’t know. It could be an email to someone you need information from or a reply request that includes a group of unknown recipients. You must communicate with strangers. 

Many business people spend most of their time crafting their message instead of thinking about the people who need to understand it. They write in a style that works for them, assuming that it will work for others–instruction manuals, help desk scripts and earnings statements are good examples of this approach.

This weekend, I will be writing a guest blog post for an audience I don’t know. They are student members of a financial association. Since I am not a student and don’t belong to this association, I am taking extras steps to ensure my message is not lost in translation.

Here is the process I am following to align my message with my readers interests:

  • Meet with the association’s communication coordinator to better understand reader preferences
  • Review a topic list of articles published this year to identify themes and titling
  • Read the latest two issues to study style, tone, structure and length of articles
  • Visit other student sites, such as Talent Egg, to better understand student needs
  • Create a draft and review it with the coordinator
  • Gain feedback from readers to learn for the next time

I remember speaking with a leader who was frustrated by his employees’ poor knowledge of the company’s strategy. He had spent a lot of time writing about every aspect of his plan. Why didn’t people get it?

It turns out that his writing style was jargon filled and complex. His desire to share every detail left people confused, bored and annoyed. Before long, people stopped reading.

Getting to know the people you don’t know is the only way to effectively write to them.

Phil

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