2 min read

Write so your reader listens

Black & white picture of a young male in a white t shirt, shouting into a microphone
Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

Who are you writing this for?

This question is one you should always consider when writing. I have sat in so many doc reviews at Amazon where there were so many questions asked, that could have been answered in the document. The writer wrote the doc for themselves and assumed that everyone knew more than they did. They didn’t consider who they were writing their document for.

When a writer isn’t thinking about their audience, bad things happen. These documents often have either too much detail or not enough. They use language not everyone will understand and they lack clarity. All these things are easy to fix, but it takes time. Writing for your reader requires a shift in your approach.

Photo by Ashutosh Dave on Unsplash

Where do you start?

A great place to start is by understanding who you are writing your document for. At Amazon, it is likely that you will have most of your reviewers in a single meeting, which means fewer versions but a slightly tougher job of picking the right reader to target. You could write for the person who knows the least, but if your key decision maker is more of an expert on your project you could be wasting valuable time introducing basic concepts to them. I would write for your key decision maker, after all, if they like what they read you stand a better chance of getting the backing you need. You may even consider having different versions of your document for different reviews or decision makers. This may sound like I’ve just increased your workload, but in reality, having different versions may make for more straightforward reviews and actually save you time in the long run.

The next question to ask yourself is, what does my reader need?

What is the problem I am looking to solve? What opportunity am I able to capture? Do they even know and recognise there is an issue or opportunity?

All these questions will help you pitch your document to really grab your readers' attention. I recall once when a great document was thrown out because the leader didn’t agree there was a problem to fix. Whilst rare, if you know your audience, you can write to introduce the opportunity to improve instead perhaps.

When you are writing for the same leader (reader) often, you can learn their quirks, likes, and dislikes. But if it’s your first time writing for them, you need to arm yourself with as much insider information as possible. Ask around to find others who have successfully written for this leader. Find out what their feedback is centred around - too much data? Not enough data? Like tables? Hate tables? Even down to preferred font and size! (Anything to give you the edge :))

Just remember, when you are writing, you are rarely writing for yourself. Spending a little time thinking about your reader will save you a lot of time editing and rewriting too.