Think first, then write 2: your readers shoes

business writing analysing readersIn the last post we looked at writing yourself a clear brief – identifying the why, who and what of your business writing task.

In this post we’ll look at the second step – analysing what your readers need and want from your content, whether it’s a blog, report, email or user guide.

2. Step into your readers’ shoes

Let’s say your brief is ‘to persuade our board of directors to invest in a new e-learning platform.’

Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. What questions would you ask if someone came to your desk and invited you to sign a cheque for, say, £100,000 ($167,000)? Perhaps:

  • What exactly is the money for?
  • What are the benefits to the business and how can we quantify and measure them?
  • What are the risks? How likely/serious are they and how can we reduce them?
  • What options did you look at? Why is this the best one?
  • How will this impact my job?
  • What will change and when?

Readers with different job roles may have different concerns. If you don’t know the readers personally, you can probably make some assumptions.

For example, most finance directors I know (including my husband) are obsessed with costs and return on investment. IT directors are more concerned with the hardware and software specifications. HR want to know the impact on people and policies…and so on. You can satisfy all of them by designing a structure with different sections for different reader roles.

If you’re writing a user guide to help all staff use the new e-learning software, the reader questions might be ‘What courses do I have to do?”How do I access them?’ ‘What is my password?’

Watch your language

Also think about your readers’ technical background and language level. Will all your readers know what a Learning Management System is? If not, you will need to explain it somewhere prominent, like the executive summary or introduction.

Are they all native English speakers? If not, they may be baffled by idiomatic expressions like ‘a blessing in disguise’ or ‘hunker down’.

Picture your reader

The more you can picture your readers as individuals the easier it will be to write to them. A common writers’ technique is to put a photo of their reader (or ideal reader) near their computer screen. If they get stuck for words, they write directly to the person in the photo. It’s much easier than writing to ‘the board’, ‘all staff’ or ‘the general public’.

The quality of the writing is usually a lot better as well.

In the next post I’ll look at step three – outlining your structure.

Until then, good luck with all your writing!


PS Do you or your organisation need help with writing skills? Click here for details of my business writing courses and one-to-one coaching. And don’t forget to sign up on for my free PDF on common errors  ‘The Seven Deadly Writing Sins’ on the right sidebar.

Image courtesy of Master isolated images /

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