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Adapting Writing Style to Suit Audience

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  • Pages: 3
  • Word count: 636
  • Category: Audience

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            As a writer, the ability to tailor one’s language to the audience is just as important as being knowledgeable about the subject one is writing about. Readers differ not only in reading ability but also in their familiarity with a given topic and in what they expect to gain from reading certain material. The casual reader enjoying a novel is certainly looking for a different experience than the professor reading a thesis or the business professional scanning the morning newspaper.

            One of the key elements within writing that should be changed to suit a particular audience is vocabulary. Word choice will be dictated by the reader’s education level, familiarity with the subject and familiarity with the English language. A factory worker with a high school education may not be familiar with more complex words that a college professor would be comfortable with, but he or she might be able to use complex terms specific to their job with no difficulty. If that factory worker was not a native speaker of English, he or she might have difficulty understanding words that can have two different meanings or words used as part of idiomatic expressions.

            To ensure that information is understandable for this example audience – factory workers – the writer would need to use simple words with clear meanings. Use of common industry terms would be appropriate. Sentences should be kept short. “Corporate speak” should be avoided in favor of a more conversational tone, but slang, idioms or cultural references should not be used. Communications to this audience would likely focus on policy or process changes or updates on the company as a whole. Writing should be concise and provide the “what, why and what does it mean to me?” without including extraneous information.

            If one was writing for the executive management of the factory in the previous example, the tone and language would be altered to reflect the differences between these audiences. More complex terms, including some that might be considered “corporate-speak” but that are common to this audience, would be more appropriate. Sentence structure could be more complex, although still written in such a way as to be clear to a non-native speaker. The message overall would be more robust – this audience would be interested in the company strategy and detailed descriptions of what’s happening within the company, not just the basic “need to know” information.

            Tailoring information that is very technical for a non-technical audience is more challenging than just adjusting tone and using plain language. To make complex concepts or processes understandable, the writer must find a way to describe the concept in terms that any audience can understand. This may be accomplished through the use of simple metaphors or analogies. An example might be “the process of osmosis can be compared to the way that a sponge absorbs water.” Again, the metaphor or analogy must use simple terms and must describe something that any audience can understand or relate to. Short sentences and short paragraphs help to keep the message clear. The use of numbered or bulleted points may also be helpful, as in “The stages of the process are:  1) water in contact with sponge, 2) water penetrates outer surface of sponge…” etc.

            Adapting one’s writing to one’s audience often requires a writer to use language that does not reflect his or her own tone or manner of speaking. In addition to knowing how to change some of the technical aspects of the writing, the writer must also understand how to think from the perspective of the audience and speak to them on their own level, whether that happens to be a less educated or a more educated level than the writer’s own.

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