Understand your audience

By getting a clear picture of your readers, you can ensure that your text is tailored to their needs.

This section covers:

Define your audience

The first step is to consider who your audience will be (eg the general public, students, government staff, journalists, academics in a specific field).

Some documents may be read by more than one type of audience (eg people with and without a technical background). Terms that are familiar to one audience may be unfamiliar to another and may need to be explained.

See Knowing your audiences for more discussion of audience profiles and considerations.

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Write to the appropriate reading level

Different audiences have different reading abilities. For any content meant for general audiences, ensure that your content is understandable by people with limited reading skills. However, when writing for a specialist audience, you can generally assume a higher reading level.

See Making text readable for more discussion of readability.

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Consider the knowledge readers already have

Documents for a general audience may need to include significant background details so your readers can understand the text. However, with documents aimed at specialists in a particular field, you can assume that the reader already has significant background knowledge.

Try to anticipate your reader’s questions and then answer them. What could they reasonably be expected to know? What will need further clarification?

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Use specialised terms only where necessary

Many fields, such as science and law, use specialised terms. People within the field will usually understand those terms, so you can include them in material for that audience. Doing so helps to retain the credibility and accuracy of your writing. For the right audience, specialist terms convey a lot of information succinctly.

However, think about whether your document will be read just by people in the field, or whether it will also have a more general audience. If your document may have a wider audience, limit the number of specialised terms used, and include a simple definition of each one if you do use them.

See General and specialised audiences for further discussion on ways to deal with general and specialised audiences.

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