Your Audience Runs This Mo' Fo'

April 29, 2015

Writing isn't really about the stuff you have to do to pass your English-composition course in college.  (No more than three sentences per paragraph!)  It's so much more than wielding your commas as well as a Star Wars geek can wield a fake light saber.  (Pray for these poor people.)


I can't say it enough:  Writing is about communication.  That's right:  C-O-M-M-U-N-I-C-A-T-I-O-N.  As in the thing you have to do in order to live quasi-successfully on this planet.

So keeping that in mind, you also want to keep in mind that people communicate all kinds of ways.  If you're in a boardroom and have managed to keep from falling asleep after having the 400th Excel spreadsheet slapped in front of your face, you probably have to use business-like language to hang with the posse and to keep from being fired.  You know, "Let's get those people on-boarded so we can action-plan appropriately and utilize their skill sets to gain their buy-in!"  WTF?

If you're writing for your persnickety, underpaid English teacher who is easily impressed by your ability to use the vocabulary words he gave you last week, you probably have to write something like:  "The sententious and martinet-like captain of the boat mellifluously navigated the ship in accordance with her predilections, which was at variance with the empirical data efficaciously presented to her by her sanctimoniously sycophant crew."  A+ for you!

If you're writing to a gangsta rapper, unless you write like, "Yo, yo, see, dis iz wat um sayin', U C.  U caint b tekkin ma monay lyk dat, cuz I wok hard fo' my shiz, u HERD?" you probably won't be taken seriously by his parole officer.

In other words, the audience runs the show, not you.  Let me repeat:  The audience runs the show, not you.  If you want to be taken seriously, you have to write so that your audience can understand you.  Basically, you need writing flexibility.


This flexibility is not meant to negate your own sense of self in the writing process.  I mean, everyone's writing has traits in it that can't be erased, no matter how audience-focused we try to be.  (I'll blog about that bit next.)  That's all good.  It's just that we need to taper down how we want to communicate something and focus on how our audience wants us to say it.  Really, it's simple customer service--giving the customer what he or she wants.

I'll be the first to admit that this notion was a problem for me.  I used to be so prescriptive about my writing. To me, if my syntax was book-perfect, who gave a flying *^@# if the audience understood me?  Hell, if they didn't, it was because they were unlearned savages who looked at education like Ebola.  I was the one who was right; the audience was the one who had to submit to my will.

Yeah, it doesn't quite work that way.  Well, it does if you went to the George W. Bush school of how to live life.  (Most of us, however, actually got halfway-decent scores on our SATs and escaped that fate, thank ya, Jeezus!)  I really had to look at why the hell I was writing in the first place.  That became clear after a few seconds of introspection:  I was writing to impress rather than express.  If I could litter my writing with superfluous--arg, still doing it!--$50 words, people would take note.  Which was true for some circles.  For other circles, all that did was turn people off, or it gave them the wrong impression about me.  ("What a stuck-up *%@%$!)

That attitude continued for many years until I had some colleagues sit down with me to discuss my approach to writing.  It was through that series of sometimes-tough discussions that I learned that writing was about the audience, not about me.  Admittedly, I'm still learning that day by day.

So for your next writing project or assignment, before you break out the mighty pen or keyboard, slow ya roll.  You need to first think about who your audience is, and how that audience communicates.  Is the audience a holy convention of pastors?  Well, dropping the "F" bomb might result in getting your a$$ crucified.  Or maybe you're writing for the Vibe Awards?  Dissin' everyone by using vile things like verbs could get you capped in the face and chest faster than you can yell, "Hey!  There's Tupac!"  Or callously writing something like "Cher and the Home Depot are the reason we have global warming," might get you glitter-bombed if you are writing to the audience for GLAAD.

In the world of writing, the audience is king.  Got it?


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