Writing 101: Relating to Your Audience

This is the first in a series of tips and tricks aimed at helping freelance writers, sourced from veteran writers and editors who have been in the business for years.

Writing is both an art and a science. Writers should always strive to improve their craft, and freelance writers should be flexible enough to adapt to changing clients and demands. If you're a freelance writer, you should know that you are ultimately going to be judged by the quality of your work, which then translates to the amount of work you could potentially get in the future. Do it consistently enough, and you could raise your rates—and your reputation—as a reliable writer.


Image: by Nick Manning, via FreeImages.com

The first step to any writing job involves learning about the topic and the audience. Here's a short list of things that you need to be aware of before even touching that keyboard.

Using the Right Tone and Voice                                                                           

This is elementary, but something that a lot of writers forget about. Tone and voice is as important as your angle, because this dictates how the audience relates to your content. You can't write a children's book if you write it in the same way you would a technical manual (well, you can, but your editor and audience won't like it).

Being relatable matters here, and this doesn't just apply to the tone or style of your writing, but also who you're talking to. If you're having problems switching between different tones between your projects, here's an effective way to do it: look away from your task for a few minutes and read (quality) content that closely matches the tone and voice that you want to emulate.

For example, if you've been tasked to write a news article, read a reputable news story and try to read it out loud or imagine the tone of the reporter. If you've been tasked to write "how to bake a carrot cake" for a blog, try to do research on the blog's previous entries to understand the tone. This exercise should help condition your brain to adapt the required tone and voice that your audience can relate to.

The Levels of Expertise

This closely relates to the previous tip about tone and voice and how you can relate to your audience, but focuses more on their experience and knowledge. To be more specific, before you write for your audience, you should know who they are, how much they know about the topic, and what their needs are. This dictates where you should start, and how deep into the topic you should go. 

How important is this? Learning your audience's level of expertise will allow you to avoid wasting time and effort trying to discuss what your audience should already know. It also makes you sound more professional and knowledgeable.

For example, if you've been tasked to write an article on a sport like basketball, there are two ways to go about it. You can start by offering a primer that discusses what the different terms mean if your target audience consists of beginners who want to learn the basics, or you can go right into specifics, like different offensive and defensive plays and the importance of situational awareness if your audience is made up of enthusiasts who already know the sport. Beginners might not be able to understand an advanced topic, and knowledgeable users are unlikely to be interested in an article for beginners.

The easiest way to determine your audience's level of expertise is to simply ask your client when you discuss the project, or to do your own research on your client's audience. This will ensure that your submissions fit. 

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Professional Writer, Editor

Sean is a professional tech journalist and editor with more than a decade of experience covering consumer tech and information security for both print and online publications. He currently works for an IT security company by day and freelances at night.

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