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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.


4 Things You Need to Know Before You Write a Guest Blog Post

Guest blogging is an excellent way to raise your profile and promote your book. I have been looking forward to it. It’s like preparing a meal at someone else’s house party: The seasoning, presentation and guests are different but you still are the chef.

For an author, guest blogging:

  • Establishes a new relationship with another author
  • Gives you access to a new audience (including the people who they send your post to)
  • Provides an opportunity to communicate with those who leave comments
  • Increases your credibility through your association with the blog owner (your post has met their quality standards)
  • Positions you as being knowledgeable about your topic
  • Generates awareness, interest and ideally desire to buy your book

I wrote my first guest blog post two years ago for my friend Mel’s Pivot Points. I selected a topic I thought she would like but put my own spin on the content. She liked it.

I have written five guest posts for leadership and people management blogs since Change with Confidence was published. The first to be posted was on Jennifer Miller’s The People Equation. I am fortunate because she is a great advocate for guest posting including posting a video about becoming a guest blogger on her home page. Also, Jennifer’s writing style is upbeat, personal and professional, which made writing the post easy.

A successful guest blog post needs to be aligned with the overall themes and feel of the blog. There needs to be similarities between your post and theirs to ensure that it meets readers’ expectations. Therefore, the first step of writing a guest blog post is to get acquainted with the blogger’s site. Here are four things you need to know before you write a guest blog post:

Content. What topics appeal to the writer? Your first clue is how they describe the site, for example, “Addressing Current Leadership Issues.” Writing down the topics from the last fifteen posts is a fast way to identify content themes. Clustering topics under these themes will provide you with options for your post topic.

Style. How does the author write? Is it conversational or academic? Short or long sentences? Is the vocabulary expressive or factual? Copying their style is not the goal; the goal is to be similar to it so that your style doesn’t clash with readers’ preferences and expectation.

Titles. Are titles dramatic “grabbers’ like “Why Everything Ever Written in Blogs Till Now is Wrong?” or summary statements like “4 Things You Need to Know Before You Write a Guest Blog?” Typically, a blogger will use a menu of three to five title styles. Which one you pick from this list is up to you.

Format. The blogger has made many design decisions. They have selected a font and a layout. They have also chosen a preferred length of post. I find it’s easier to write within a host’s format preferences, especially when sizing paragraphs.

Jennifer kindly sent me a note after my guest post was published. She said there had been a lot of interest in my post, which made me feel great. I wonder whether it was because of the content, style, title or format. It probably was all of the above.


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