2 questions you must answer before you write anything

I need two questions answered before I can start writing, but this doesn’t seem necessary for everyone. When someone asks me to review or edit their work I ask them the same two questions. The response is usually a perplexed and sometimes pained expression accompanied by a stumbling, vague answer.

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Whether you’re writing an email, a blog post, a sales proposal, a university assignment, a letter to your significant other or a book, the ability to clearly express your ideas in writing is an immensely valuable skill. If you can clearly and succinctly answer these two questions, you’ll be able to write more targeted and effective communication.

  1. Who’s your target audience?
  2. Knowing your target audience helps you:

    • Choose an appropriate tone. I’ve regularly created several versions of the same message because the tone that works for one audience segment would be completely inappropriate for another.
    • Know what your audience cares about so you can focus your communication on these needs.
    • Understand how much background knowledge you can assume.

    Your output will be more relevant if it addresses the needs of your target audience.

  3. What’s your goal?
  4. Think about the last thing you wrote. Why did you write it? Chances are that it was to inform, persuade or entertain the target audience and to move them to take action. Actions might include making a decision, endorsing a plan, making a purchase, following your advice, sharing information with you or changing their worldview about a situation. Clarity about the desired action helps focus your writing and avoid clutter.

If you’re writing a stream-of-consciousness personal journal you can safely ignore this advice. For anything you want someone else to read, getting clear about the target audience and why you’re writing the document will create more focused, concise and effective communication.

Question: What tips have helped you improve your writing?

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