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by Kimberly Blaker
Blogger & Freelance Writer for Hire
Engage and Compel blog

 

You have to respect your audience. Without them, you’re essentially standing alone, singing to yourself.” – K.D. Lang

Lang refers to singing in a literal sense. But her quote couldn’t hold more true for writing.

As a business professional or non-fiction writer, you’ve got to respect your readers if you don’t want to be writing to yourself.

This means providing them something useful, relevant, that speaks their language and touches their emotions. Figuratively, it sings to them. This holds true whether you want to educate or inform readers on a particular topic or market a product or service to them. All in all, you need to show you respect them.

That’s why the first two crucial steps to writing engagingly are to know your audience and your narrowed topic. But which comes first? That all depends. In some instances, you already know your audience. You’re an art collector and intermingle with a group of other art collectors. You know this group intimately. All you need to do is decide on a specific topic of interest to them.

On the other hand, sometimes you already know the topic you’re going to write about. It’s been predetermined by an editor or client. Or perhaps you already decided on a narrow topic you’ve been dying to write about. In this case, your next step is to know your audience.

Know your audience demographics

Let’s begin with the latter scenario. You already know your topic. So now you need to know your audience. The first step is to gather basic demographic information. This is the shared characteristics of a particular population. It typically refers to populations for which there is statistical data.

Some common demographics you’ll likely consider include:

  • age

  • race

  • gender

  • income level

  • marital status

  • education level

  • occupation

  • place of residence

  • religion

  • political affiliation

  • family size

These are only some of the more common demographics you might consider. But it’s far from an exhaustive list.

So let’s say you’re passionate about wilderness hiking and have already narrowed your topic to “how to survive hiking the Appalachian trail for 180 days.” An outdoors magazine has accepted your query to write the article.

Now you need to zero in on your audience.

What are some of the demographics you need to know for this topic and the magazine’s readership? Age and gender are probably important. So with a little research, you determine the magazine caters to ages 18 to 42. It also has both male and female readers. I’ll show you the importance of this in just a minute.

Digging further into your audience’s psyche

Now you’ve narrowed down some basic demographics. You also know your audience likes the outdoors. At least a portion of the audience will be specifically interested in hiking, as well. So now what? You need to dig further into the readership’s psyche. You need to know what makes them tick. This is known as psychographics, which I’ll cover in depth in future post.Know your audience. A window into their souls.

As an outdoors person and hiker yourself, you know you have a bit of a grasp on the audience already. The readers, particularly those drawn to such a monumental hike as the Appalachian Trail, are likely adventurous. They certainly have a strong appreciation for the outdoors, and therefore, probably nature. As serious hikers, they’re also goal directed and have great endurance. This means they’re likely to be physically fit.

The initial demographics above were important to know. But these more personal characteristics create a much deeper understanding. Now you know your audience on a more personal level.

Putting it all together

So how do these demographics and more personal information help you write engagingly? For starters, the broad age range of your audience, 18 to 42-year-olds, can help determine the best style or voice to use. You’re writing for a mixed gender audience. So you also know you need to maintain gender neutrality.

Beyond that, you know the readership will consist of many experienced hikers. But as an outdoors magazine not dedicated solely to hiking, some readers will be amateurs at best. You won’t want to leave out details important and of interest to less skilled hikers who may consider the trek. At the same time, you want to make sure the more experienced hikers don’t feel like they’re reading Hiking 101. Otherwise, the more experienced hikers will lose interest. You know you need to keep a fine balance.

Speaking your audience’s language

These outdoorsy people, skilled or unskilled, will probably be very receptive to learning about some of the breathtaking sights; the peaceful tranquility of a particular stream; or waking up to the earthy scent of the forest after a fresh rain.

Did you notice what I did? I wrote this last paragraph as if I were the hiking writer and as if you were my nature loving readers. I chose imagery that would resonate perfectly with my audience. Now they’re engaged. Maybe I would have written this way regardless. But knowing my audience more deeply helped to ensure I touch them in this very personal way. This audience will appreciate that I’m speaking their language.

But that’s not all. We also know these readers are likely fit, either physically or mentally. They’re probably both. This audience wants to be inspired by the details. They want to know about the more strenuous challenges they’ll face if they take on the five million steps to complete this adventurous hike.

One such detail, in particular, will arouse them. They’ll need to be prepared to ascend and descend the grueling rocky terrain of Southern Maine. Much of the trail in that area is eroded – and by rocky, I’m speaking boulders.

Notice again, I presented a vivid image. This time I spoke of a ‘challenge.’ I know this particular will intrigue these readers.

As you can see, by knowing the specific details about the psyche of these readers, I’m able to engage them and hook them. I know what particular things to talk about and also where to use imagery to sustain their attention. I maintained gender neutrality and used a voice suited to a broad age range. I spoke to their sense of yearning for the outdoors; traits of strength and endurance; and desire for adventure.

Now it’s your turn

Be sure to subscribe to my blog, Engage and Compel, below to receive an email notification each time I add a new post. When you do, I’ll send you my free cheat sheet, “Write to Engage.” It won’t take the place of everything you’ll learn in my blog. But it serves as a checklist to help you attain and sustain your audience’s interest each time you write.

Know Your Audience: A Window into Your Readers’ Souls

Tell me what you think.