By: Michael Record, PhD is the Associate Vice Chancellor of the Writing Program at Keiser University
You may remember your Composition teacher saying something about audience when you took your writing courses. Some students wonder if they’re supposed to be writing a movie script or a play when they hear it described this way, but composition teachers use the term audience to mean whoever will be reading your writing. The advice is to keep the audience in mind. This advice is spot on. One mistake that many beginning writers make is forgetting that writing is a meaningless task in and of itself; if no one ever reads it, it didn’t matter much.
However, when you picture in your mind the person who will be reading your message and think about what his or her needs are, you’re much more likely to meet those needs and subsequently come up with a successful piece of writing. Are you writing a memo, a business letter, a self-appraisal for your annual review, a request for time off, a note praising a colleague, or a suggestion for the suggestion box? All of these examples have slightly different audiences, but keeping the needs of that audience in mind is the trick to catering that message to the self-interest of that reader, maximizing your chances that the message will not only be clear, but also will resonate with the reader.
If you took or are taking any upper-level writing classes at Keiser, you may remember hearing the professor speak about the “you attitude.” The you attitude is a way some textbooks have focused students’ attention on the importance of catering a message to the needs of the intended audience. One example of the you attitude is the disappearance of the objective from resumes. Remember what resumes used to look like? They began with a canned message that began with the word “to,” and always continued on to the same overused, meaningless description of what the writer needs: “To obtain a satisfying position using my skills for communication and teamwork to accomplish blah blah blah…” The reason why employers prefer a summary of qualifications on the modern resume where the objective used to appear is because of the you attitude.
The objective is about you and what you need to accomplish to feed your family. The summary of qualifications is about the employer, and the hirer’s needs. That is the appropriate focus for that kind of document. The you attitude can also be used to preserve goodwill when delivering a negative message. Is it better to say, “You didn’t mail your payment” or “We have not received payment”? Both are bad news, but that slight shift in focus from the individual to the organization removes the accusatory sting from that situation.
You may notice that my focus in writing articles for the Keiser University web site is its readers. Who is likely to see the message, what do they want to know, and what kind of information is likely to help them? Those are questions I think about as I compose the message. You can’t satisfy all the needs of all the readers all the time, but this helpful writing strategy will maximize the chances that whatever writing task you’re doing will end in success.
Michael Record, PhD
Associate Vice Chancellor of the Writing Program