TO FIND ENLIGHTENMENT, PHILOSOPHERS SAY, “KNOW THYSELF.”
When it comes to enlightening writing, “Know thy audience.”
Some think that writing is similar to what’s shown in the movie Field of Dreams. To paraphrase the film’s most quoted line, “If you write it, they will come.”
Although he expresses some sympathy for that perspective, Stephen King (paraphrasing a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln and others) admits in On Writing:
You can’t please all of the readers all of the time; you can’t please even some of the readers all of the time, but you really ought to try to please at least some of the readers some of the time.
The most important thing to do when writing effectively, then, is to know your intended reader. Sometimes that is a single individual; sometimes it is millions of people. Regardless of the size of the audience, it is essential to “walk a mile in their shoes” (Pro Tip 24), as the old expression goes.
That means keeping what they need or want to know or experience firmly in mind. Though writing just for yourself may work for diaries and some fiction, it’s a lousy way to communicate in day-to-day, more practical writing. If your goal is to inform and inspire readers, it’s far more effective to meet them where they are, in a way that commands their involvement because it sparks their interest.
Ignore their perspective at your own peril.
It pays to constantly keep your consumers (in the sense of readers, not the way marketing defines the word) in mind as you write. Think about what they are experiencing as they read: what information they get, what emotions they feel, what reactions they have.
Talk to yourself as you write and note how you work through the words. Put yourself in the readers’ place and provide the information and inspiration they need. Keep your message consumable, which means that the readers are primed to absorb it. Don’t assume people know jargon and technology speak (Pro Tip 14).