As an editor, I am frequently asked for tips on how to write better. The question is usually couched as “How do I write a good ______?” Fill in the blank with whatever you wish: blog post, web copy, article, white paper, letter—even email.
Well, if you want to write better, I suggest you start with my No. 1 rule: Always write with your audience in mind.
Take time to understand your audience
Before you put pen to paper, ask yourself a few questions:
- Who do I want to read this?
- What do they want to know?
- Why do they want to know it?
- How [and where] will they be reading it?
- What do I want them to do next?
You may not know the answers to all these questions, but any insight into your audience will ensure you give them what they want, even need.
Let’s take an example.
Suppose you are an accountant who just read the latest changes in tax code. You find it fascinating. But you want your clients and prospective clients—not fellow accountants—to read your blog post. Obviously, clients will be more interested in how the changes are going to affect their tax returns. Will they owe more money to the IRS, or less?
Of course, you still may want to write about the thrilling details of the tax code. Really it is fascinating. Just choose the appropriate medium, like a professional journal targeted to accountants and tax professionals.
Develop an audience persona
Chances are good that you will write different messaging for different audiences. It can be helpful to develop a “persona” for each audience.
A persona is a fictional representative of your ideal client or clients. It often is an amalgam of several people within the same demographic, psychographic, or social group.
The best personas are based on market research that gives you concrete insights into the specific needs and behaviors of your target audience. Research helps you answer some of those critical questions mentioned above: What do they want to know? And why?
A persona can be very detailed that pulls from market research, or a quick snapshot based on past experience, even instinct. No matter the length, an effective persona has a little demographic information, a little biographic information, a few points on goals, and a brief outline of major problems or issues. If your market research included interviews, include actual quotes from that research. Just attribute them to your fictional character. Even add a picture to make it seem more real and personal.
Maybe it is easier with an example.
John Smith, 56, started his engineering firm 20 years ago and helped it grow to be one of the largest in the Cincinnati area. He is concerned because revenue was down 5% the last 2 years. He’ll be retiring within the next 10 years and doesn’t want his legacy to be a failing company. He is a self-made made, who doesn’t like asking for help. But he is willing to learn, and is a voracious reader of three daily newspapers and four journals.
“We have lost the edge we were once known for. It is partly my fault. I haven’t stayed on top of technology and trends. But my younger associates seem reluctant to push the envelope like I once did.”
If you are trying to attract John as a customer, you have a pretty good idea what he might be interested in reading. You also can assume he probably isn’t reading blogs and social media. But he’ll take the time to read a white paper or journal article.
Using your buyer’s personas
If your firm is targeting a homogenous market, you likely will only need one persona. If you support multiple industries or offer a broad range of services and content, consider developing a persona for each offering and audience.
Once you have your well-crafted fictional character, it is time to write. And having a persona helps you personalize what you write so it feels relevant to your reader. The same topic can be considered in different ways to accommodate each audience.
For example, you may write a high-level white paper on business growth strategies to John, the owner of our fictional engineering firm. You can then take the same general outline and write a more tactical blog post to John’s junior associates.
Refer back to your personas as you prepare your messaging and content. I know writers who actually keep framed pictures of their fictional reader on their desk to remind them.