Writing for Your Audience

The audience should always be at the centre of any communication. When you are writing it is important to consider:

  • the diversity of your audience
  • your language use
  • register and tone of voice appropriateness for the audience and communication channel
  • the audience's anticipated beliefs and values
  • the audience's level of knowledge
  • how much information to include given the audience's interest level in the subject matter you are presenting.
  • Audience diversity

    It is easier to write for a very specific or narrow audience because you can make certain assumptions about their background knowledge and educational level. For example, when the University’s student-recruitment staff present students with information on cut-off scores for University acceptance, there is an assumption that the students’ schools would have already provided some information on the requirements for entering tertiary education.

    If you have a broad audience of different ages, with diverse educational and cultural backgrounds you should ensure you write using inclusive language. To write inclusively it is important to avoid colloquialisms and use plain English. Some audiences may not have the same experience with the English language as others, and will not necessarily understand local slang, clichés or acronyms.

  • Anticipating beliefs and values

    Select audiences may believe that university study is not a necessary pathway to securing a good career, and while this may be true for some people, university is certainly an advantage. As thought leaders in learning it’s important that we are able to demonstrate the importance of university education and research to the broader community. Avoid making grand, sweeping statements about the university experience unless you can provide evidence for these statements, or your communications may be viewed by some readers as false or insincere.

  • Level of knowledge

    It is important that your writing does not overestimate or underestimate the readers’ intelligence. By not providing enough information or using a level of language that assumes a high level of knowledge, you risk alienating your audience. Provide too much information or verbose explanations, and your audience may feel you have underestimated their intelligence and they become quickly bored.

    One way to avoid alienating your audience by not providing enough information is to offer web links to, or contact details for, sources other than your communication that can provide further information.

  • Scope and interest

    Once your purpose is established, and you have considered the profile of your audience, you can make decisions about how much information to include and what will be of interest to the audience. If your audience is specific and well informed on the subject matter, a succinct communication may be all that is required. If you have a broad audience, then you need to consider the different levels of background knowledge that the audience might have. You will need to structure the communication so as to accommodate the audience with less knowledge, without boring the more informed audience with details they already know.

    Elements such as the title of your publication and tools such as a contents page, index, appendices or reference list will also allow readers to seek the exact information they want, and refer to other resources if they need more background information.

  • Register and tone

    register / ˈrɛdʒəstə/ (say 'rejuhstuh) noun: a stylistic variety of a language, such as formal or informal.Macquarie dictionary

    The University communicates with its various audiences through many different channels such as websites and publications. In most instances, the communication’s purpose, content and intended audiences will determine the register and tone of voice in which a communication is written.

    An example of audience-appropriate register can be found on the Study at Adelaide website. The register is casual, contractions such as ‘it’s’ instead of ‘it is’ are used and at times the style and language may be colloquial. This is because the primary target audience is made up of school-age students who communicate in a particular way and who are generally used to receiving information in a certain way. The site and the language in which it has been written specifically consider the audience and the register and tone reflect this.

    In contrast to the language used on the Study at Adelaide site would be the tone and register in which the University Annual Report is written. It is a statutory requirement that the University prepare and publish an annual report. There are topics that the University is obliged to report upon, and the document is submitted to parliament every year.

    As an official corporate publication, the annual report is written in a formal register and in a report style: i.e., it excludes the use of personal pronouns and at times adopts passive sentence construction. This is a report-style convention. This convention also influences the type of content included and the way it is presented.

    Other examples of audience and channel appropriateness of register are on the University’s social media platforms Facebook and Twitter. There are particular conventions, limitations and audience expectations that apply in these contexts and so it is appropriate that the language and terminology used reflect these, and that the brand is represented accordingly while still maintaining its integrity.

    Refer to the specific recommendations regarding the use of second-person and third-person narrative in University communications under University House Style.