When I sit down to begin a piece of writing, I ask myself two questions:
- To whom am I speaking? (Who is my audience?)
- What am I trying to accomplish? (What is my purpose?)
These questions are equally important. Sometimes I begin with one; sometimes with the other. I don’t consider step one of my writing process complete until I know the answer to both. Now let’s focus on the question of audience for a moment.
You need to know your audience because every piece of writing is an appeal. When you publish, you invite people to interact with you, even if indirectly. Every rhetorical decision should be taken with this in mind.
You don’t speak to academics the same way you talk to hobbyists. You don’t speak to adolescents the same way you talk to 50-year-olds. Not if you want to be successful.
I don’t view my audience as a single group. It’s segmented. Some people read everything we write, but most don’t. Some follow us for the comics; some for the writing-related things I post here; some for our work on equality, etc.
I rarely even try to speak to my entire audience at once. Every detail of every post, from basic structure right down to things like word choice and standards of evidence, is informed by the segment of the audience I am communicating with.
I have a rule of thumb. No idea whether I made it up or co-opted it and forgot the source:
If you try and speak to everyone, you end up speaking to no one.