Writing for the Web (Part II): Know Your Audience

Posted by Ben Schultz on Mar 25, 2015 8:00:00 AM

know your audience

Sometimes, people may think that good writing simply involves proper spelling, grammar, punctuation and so on. Certainly, that's a big part of it; you might have written the Great American Novel, but it probably won't seem that way if your book reads like an I Can Has Cheezburger meme.

However, truly effective writing--indeed, effective communication in general--goes a step further: It takes the person who will read the content (the blog, the webpage, the article, etc.) into consideration. Simply put, a good writer knows his or her audience.

What's In It for Them?

In an earlier blog, I stressed the importance of using the active voice in web writing. If you wonder why I harped on that subject so much, take a minute and peruse a few business websites. You'll probably find the passive voice all over the place.

Some readers may ask, "If the passive voice has less force than the active voice does, why do people use it so much?" One reason, I suspect, is that the passive voice lets them place the emphasis on themselves. Take a look at these two sentences:

  • Passive Voice: ABC Laundry is the best laundromat in the Treasure Valley.
  • Active Voice: ABC Laundry gives you the cleanest clothes in the Treasure Valley.

These sentences have similar meanings, but they emphasize different things. The sentence using passive voice puts the spotlight on ABC Laundry. The sentence using active voice still has ABC Laundry as its main subject, but it also includes a theoretical customer ("you") and what this person will receive from ABC Laundry ("the cleanest clothes").

If you're a business owner, the temptation to emphasize yourself is understandable. You should take pride in what you do--otherwise, why do it? But here's the trick: You need to show customers how they'll benefit from what you do.

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Do Your Homework

To reach your current or potential customers, you need to research and ask questions:

  • What do they want or need?
  • What are the backgrounds (educational, social, etc.) of your target customers?
  • Is your audience composed of fellow industry professionals or laymen?

The answers to questions like these will determine how you present your products and services to your readers. For example, someone who works in your field will know what you're saying if you include a lot of industry jargon. An outsider, on the other hand, will just give your webpage or blog that glazed-eyes look that says, "What the heck is he (or she) talking about?"

Growing up, people probably told you to walk a mile in someone's shoes to understand them. The same advice holds true if you want to write to them.

Ben Schultz

Written by Ben Schultz

Ben joined the Tribute team in 2014. He holds a B.A. in English from UC Santa Barbara. In addition to writing content for Tribute Media, he is a regular freelance contributor to *Boise Weekly’s* music section.

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