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The Evolving Writer, Part VI–Write for the Intended Audience

If a writer wants his or her message to be understood, one must keep the readers in mind and write to them on their level. Failure to do so results in misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and possibly the total loss of the readers as they, in either frustration or boredom, quit reading.

Many writers make one of two mistakes regarding their audience. They write either above their audience members or down to them. Neither extreme is acceptable.


The writer must know who his or her target audience is. Before you begin writing, ask yourself who will be reading your work. (Whom do you want to reach with your message?) Write using the vocabulary and the sentence structure appropriate to the target readers’ educational level, matching your vocabulary to their vocabulary and prior knowledge of the subject. Don’t assume that the readers know as much as you know about your subject. On the other hand, don’t underestimate them or their knowledge.

Okay, it’s confession time: One of my pet peeves is the writer who tries to impress the readers with his knowledge and vocabulary. Please don’t try to wow or con your readers in this way. Be yourself, and use the terminology and style that is most appropriate to your audience. Remember that your goal is their understanding, not the elevation of your reputation as a scholar or literary genius.


Someone (I’ve seen this quotation attributed to several different people, including the ubiquitous “Anonymous”) once said, “Never try to impress your readers with the profundity of your thought by the obscurity of your language. Whatever has been thoroughly thought through can be stated simply.”

If you keep your intended readers in the forefront of your mind as you write, you’ll avoid this pitfall, and your writing will be brief, concise, precise, and understandable.

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson


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