Business writing, like all other fiction writing, needs the writer to fully understand their audience. Too often a business writer sits behind their computer and asks, “What do I want to write about?” This question places the writer at odds with the audience. The question best asked when beginning any business writing project is, “What will the reader (audience) need to know to understand my message and what type of behavior do I want the reader to exhibit after they read my message?” Thus, the first step in business writing is planning, based on the three-step writing process. Planning requires the author to understand their purpose for writing and requires them to develop an audience profile, especially for lengthy or complex business writing projects.
The Common Forms of Business Writing chart at the bottom of the Business Writing Academy home page outlines various business communication types and their purpose. Adding to that information, the chart below shows the most common audience type for each communication form.
Common Forms of Business Writing and Their Audience Type
Audience Profile Guidelines
Naturally, the purpose of your writing will dictate to what extent you will analyze your audience. As an example, if you are crafting a business email, you may already understand the receiver (audience) expects from the communication. With that example, you may decide to bypass an in-depth analysis of the audience. However, if you are drafting a report for an external audience or memo to a larger group of employees (internal audience) you will need to create an audience profile. The following six areas are guidelines for planning an audience profile.
- Identify your primary audience and secondary audience (when required).
- What are your audience size and their geographic locations?
- Understand the audience’s level of understanding.
- What are your audiences’ expectations and their preferences?
- Anticipate audience reaction to your communication.
Detailed Explanation of Audience Profile Guidelines
The primary audience for a business writer includes the main person or people who will read the writing, initially. This may include your boss, the CEO of the organization, or group of individuals within a department, a customer, or a segment of a target audience which may include hundreds or thousands of potential readers.
A note on Secondary Audience Members: Your message may end up with a secondary audience or reader. That is, the primary audience member way pass along your message, making the new recipient a secondary audience. It is important to not ignore the needs of the potential secondary audience, but keep your message focused on the key audience member, the primary audience. An example of a secondary audience may include an executive team. Imagine that the CEO of the company asked you to prepare a market analysis report on a new product. The CEO instructed you to send her the report directly but noted that they will also share your report with their executive team. The executive team becomes the secondary audience. Having an understanding about their needs is just as important as knowing the needs of the CEO, the primary audience member.
Audience Size and Geographic Location
The size of your audience could determine your communication approach. Audience sizes of 1,000 or even 10,000 need a different writing approach than one used for just a few audience members. Additionally, audiences located around the world also require a different method for communicating. Before you write your message, determine the size of your audience.
Each person receiving your business message may interpret that message differently from the other audience receivers (see diagram below). When planning your business writing, seek to understand the audience’s cultural differences and similarities. Take into consideration their language preference, age, education, economic and social status, attitudes, experience, motivation, and beliefs. This information can help you understand their biases when writing your message.
Visit the Purdue University Writing Lab to learn more about writing for a global business audience.
Audience Level of Understanding
Audiences have various levels of understanding content. If your intended audience shares your background, they will have a higher chance of understanding your message, Conversely, if your audience does not share your background, they may not understand your message. If your audience does not share a similar academic or professional background as you, the writer, consider briefly educating them on your topic in your message.
Audience expectations and preferences
When writing for internal audiences, determine their expectations for the communication. Typically, the C-Suite and executives prefer brief messages with fewer details. Additionally, understand your audiences’ preferences for message length and content. Do they expect a lot of details or just a summary of the main points? As a rule, messages or reports targeting higher levels within the organization require fewer details but do require just the main points.
Possible Audience Reaction
Audience reactions may affect the organization of your message. If you expect a favorable reaction to your message, you can minimize any supporting evidence and quickly get to your conclusion and recommendations. On the other hand, if you expect skepticism from your audience, you will need to supply lots of proof, gradually rolling the proof out in your writing.
The first step in business writing using the three-step writing process is to analyze the writing situation. This step includes defining your writing purpose and developing an audience profile as we discussed above. In the next lesson, we discuss the second part of the planning step in the writing process, gathering information about the needs of your audience and how to gather information about satisfying those needs.