Writing for an Audience: Make Content Stick

The first concept professors teach in a journalistic writing course is the Five Ws and One H. Otherwise known as Who, What, Why, When, Where and How.

In school, these guidelines are used to help prepare students for interviews. If one component is missing, the news story will have unanswered questions. The thing professors don’t say is this concept can be applied to all types of writing. Whether writing an article, a press release or even website copy, an audience relies on the author to answer each question.

  • Who was involved?
  • What happened?
  • Where did it take place?
  • When did it occur?
  • Why did it happen?
  • How did it happen?

Each of these is important, but the most important question is this:

Why should the audience care?

Before pressing pen to paper (or fingers to keys), this question must be answered. Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time might have been obsolete if presented in front of the wrong audience. That’s why it’s essential for a business to know its audience.

To understand who the audience is, think about target characteristics. The likelihood of Rolling Stone running a story about Taylor Swift’s new single far outweighs finding one in the Wall Street Journal. That’s an obvious example, but others won’t be so easy. Narrow down the target audience with these basic demographics:

  • Age
  • Location
  • Gender
  • Income
  • Education
  • Occupation
  • Ethnicity
  • Marital Status
  • # of Children

Those characteristics help define the audience, but deeper questions must be answered to understand it.

  • What is the audience’s personality?
  • What is its attitude?
  • What are its values?
  • What are some interests and hobbies?
  • What is its lifestyle like?
  • How does it behave?

Answering these questions help uncover what’s important to the audience, what motivates it and how it likes to be approached.

A good rule of thumb when answering these questions is to create a target audience profile. A target audience profile is a representation of your ideal reader or customer.

These are composed of actual data about your target audience including sex, age, income and location. They also include some educated speculation about motivations, personalities and histories.

Once these questions are answered and a target audience is identified, a marketing plan, pitch or copy can be written that compels the audience and motivates them to share, write or click.