1.1 Audience

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Remember, you're not trying to impress your high school language teacher with your ability to write vivid description stuffed with adjectives. An unusually large number of orders arriving this morning has many of our customer service department extremely busy. Many people find that writing an angry letter can be helpful in order to work through frustrations but they don't send it.

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In our first lecture, we will consider your audience. It’s important to be very thoughtful about your audience, and write with their perspective in mind. Because of the explosion in the number of sources of information, most of us are overwhelmed with things to read. There are emails, blog posts, journal articles, letters, and proposals. So in order to get someone to take the time to read what you’ve written, you will have to capture their attention very quickly. You will need to justify for your audience why they should continue to read past the first couple of sentences. To do this, you must get to your point quickly and be very clear about your intent. In this lecture, I’ll talk about how to ensure that your reader sees the value in reading your document, how tone and style of language affect the reader’s perception of your meaning. And some strategies for ensuring that the audience is able to understand your message. Think about your goals and your responsibilities as the author of the document. Also, remember that your reader, like most of us, probably has a lot of written content in their inbox. Since we are all suffering from information overload, we tend not to read beyond the first paragraph, unless it’s truly engaging. So as the writer of a document, you must make it clear, right away, that you have something valuable to say. Something of value specifically to your reader. To get your reader to read beyond the first few sentences, you will need to show them that their is enough value coming to warrant the time they will spend on it. This is true regardless of the document. Regardless of the audience, or the topic. The issue or the proposal. The reader must see the value in reading more than a couple of sentences within those sentences. This is true for all business documents, whether there emails, letters, reports, business cases, proposals or any other type of document. So how do you do this? Number one, get right to the point. That’s not to say that you should be rude, but that you should be polite, professional and focused. If your document is a letter, you might want to open with some pleasantries. But don’t dwell on them or become too casual or unprofessional. A single sentence or two is sufficient, then get to your point. Number two, make reading your material easy by being clear, efficient, and enjoyable. Be personable and friendly. Avoid overly formal language or unnecessarily wordy phrases. Remember, you’re not trying to impress your high school language teacher with your ability to write vivid description stuffed with adjectives. Thinking about your audience. Are you writing an email to a colleague within the company? A report for your manager? An executive summary for a senior executive. Or a proposal for a customer or potential customer. How can you deliver the greatest value to this person or group of people, remembering that your reader needs to see the value in continuing to read this document right away? As I mentioned before, your reader is probably very busy. Just as most of us are. Sometimes, people decide to read or delete a message, or document based on the subject line of an email. Or the first two sentences of a, of a report. Try to put yourself in your readers position. Does this person have any obligation to read what you’ve written? Most of the time, the answer is no. So you need to give them a reason. When you are writing for senior managers, make sure that you are very clear about what they need, and want to know. Ask questions about what the senior manager, or managers, expect, and if you have access, review other similar documents that have been well received. Find out about the expectations of the senior manager regarding content, and his or her perspective on the topic. As you write, be sure that you’re addressing the primary concerns and questions that this manager has. When you’re writing for a large, diverse, audience write for the general public. People who are well educated but just not terribly knowledgeable about this topic. You do this by being respectful and clear, yet concise. Write as if your reader is a part of your team and you are updating him or her. Avoid tech-speak, or terminology that is specific that is specific to your industry or company. You need to be clear and not too technical. But avoid sounding condescending. Your reader is likely to feel shut-out if you use too many industry specific terms, or language that requires a lot of explanation. Being clear or concise will make the message more persuasive, and accessible to all the readers. Another way to be sure that you reach your intended audience is to write from the reader’s point of view. Although you are the person making the arguments, or trying to persuade or explain something, write as if you are the reader. Constantly think about how your reader, or readers will perceive, or interpret what you’ve written. Remember, you are already convinced or already possess this knowledge. That is not the case for the reader. As you review your document for clarity, judge from the reader’s point of view. Not yours. The final consideration with respect to your audience is tone. You want to be likable and sound natural as if you were conversing live. Write more or less as you would say it, but without casualisms such as like or, you know. Your language will vary somewhat depending upon the reader. But even if you don’t know the reader well or they’re a senior executive, avoid too much formality and wordiness. When you’re referring to specific people, use their names instead of their titles. And use personal pronouns, such as we, you, and she. Instead of words, like, the reader, or the participant. These just sound to formal and disconnected. You do want to include courtesies, such as please and thank you, and keep a positive and polite tone. Strive to state things positively and professionally. Even if you are unhappy, or you’re writing a letter of rejection or complaint. You’ll undermine your goal by being hostile or inappropriate. Sarcasm should always be avoided. Sarcasm tends to express contempt, and a sense of superiority. Which will not be welcomed by your reader. Related to this, is the voice perspective. Use an active, rather than a passive voice. Whenever you can. Active voice tends to be more positive. For example, discussions had been conducted by our technology team to seek a solution to your problem. Alternatively you could say, our technology team is actively working on a solution to your problem. Which one sounds stronger? Which one sounds more action-oriented? Which one will appeal to your readers’ perspective more. Another example. An unusually large number of orders arriving this morning has many of our customer service department extremely busy. Or, our customer service department is very busy right now with an unusually large number of orders for one day. Which one of those is more direct and to the point? Also, as your writing, express a tone of good will. You accomplish this by exhibiting your concern for the viewpoint of others. Write as if every reader is your most important client, and highlight what matters most to them as people, and as employs considering the company size, the market sector they serve, and their company culture. Also, assume the goodwill of others. Write as if you assume their goodwill and cooperation and cooperation even if you haven’t experienced goodwill from them or don’t feel it. If you are angry, take care not to share your initial feelings of anger in your writing. Many people find that writing an angry letter can be helpful in order to work through frustrations but they don’t send it. You write the letter you’re tempted to send, in word, not in your email client. Then you write a professional letter assuming good will of the recipient and send that one. Finally, be very judicious with humor. It can be difficult to know what is considered funny by different people in different environments. A word of advice is to use humorous quotes from famous people, people whose names would be recognized. There’s much less risk in that. In summary, this lesson focused on your audience. There position, there background and there expectations. As you write carefully consider this audience, write from your readers perspective. Be clear to the point and respectful. Consider your readers background knowledge. And perspective on the issue. And judge the clarity of your writing from the reader’s perspective. Finally, always write with a positive active tone of voice, and express goodwill regardless of your message.

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