One Question to Ask Before You Write

Want a quick, easy-to-implement strategy for improving your writing?

Before you sit down to write anything (a blog post, a report, a book), ask yourself this simple question:

Who will read this?

Who are you writing for? Can you envision an ideal reader? Why would they want to read this piece of content, and what will they get from it?

The whole point of writing is to reach readers. Include them in your planning.

The best writing creates moments of communion between writer and reader. That’s more likely to happen if you write and revise with the reader in mind.

So often we set forth to write something that’s bubbling up within us, or that strikes us as a good idea. We write for our own objectives, rather than those of the reader.

As a writer, you serve the reader. Choose your audience.

Finding the Audience

I spent many years writing marketing content for technology companies. In the first meeting for any project, my first question nearly always the same: Who is the target audience?

Occasionally, the question was answered by silence.

Sometimes, the people commissioning the work hadn’t stopped to think about the audience at all. They were so excited about their technology, they assumed that everyone would share their feelings.

When businesses approach writing in that way, they create content that no one outside the company wants to read. They forget to focus on being relevant, useful, or entertaining.

On occasion, people could not agree on the target reader. One stakeholder wanted to write for a technical decision-maker, while another wanted to target industry analysts or investors. They tried to make one web page, paper, or blog post fill many different needs. That’s tough to do well.

Keeping a specific reader in mind during the planning and writing process will lead to a better result, no matter what kind of writing you do.

  • For business writing, focus on the audience to create content that is relevant to the readers.
  • When writing books or articles,envision the reader to create content that resonates with others.

What If Your Content Serves Multiple Audiences?

Sometimes, there isn’t only one ideal reader for a post, book, or report.

For example, I send these weekly writing posts to people who subscribe to my Writing Practices list. Those subscribers include novelists, technical writers, children’s book authors, marketing writers, and more. It’s a diverse group united by their common love of or interest in writing.

I could split my list, writing focused topics for each audience. But people often fill multiple writing roles — marketing copywriter by day, screenwriter by night! There’s value in exploring connections between the different types of writing.

Instead, I envision multiple people while drafting and revising, and try to offer examples that different readers would fine relevant. (Let me know if you think this is working!)

A Quick Exercise For Your Next Writing Project

If this isn’t already part of your practice, use this technique to bring you reader into the planning, drafting, and revision process.

Think of one or two people as your target readers. Write their names on a sticky note, and put it next to your writing area. When you’re planning, drafting, or revising, periodically glance at the note.

(If you’re writing fiction, you have to spend more time in your character’s heads than your readers. Put the note aside while creating the first draft, and pull it out when revising.)

Does this reminder change anything about the way that you write or revise?

Let me know if it has an effect.

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Originally published at on August 8, 2017.

Author, Writing Coach: Writing about Marketing, Technology, and Writing Itself (very meta).

Author, Writing Coach: Writing about Marketing, Technology, and Writing Itself (very meta).