Who’s your target? The importance of defining your audience.

I’m back from Texas where I participated in an SIL editors’ orientation last week.

My topic today is: Defining your audience. Or, to put it differently, who’s your target?

Just like a picture that’s sharp and well-focused, a document that has a clear target will communicate better than one where the target is fuzzy.

If you’re working on a document right now—it could, for example, be a blog post, a CV, a letter to your local newspaper, or a pie recipe—ask yourself this important question: Who am I writing this for? This will determine what you write and how you write it.

In fact, your document may have several layers of readers. That was the case with the dictionary I just edited for a Bible translator on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu. The main target was fellow Bible translators working in the Pacific island country.

But, since the dictionary was going to be published online, a secondary target was other linguists as well as non-linguistic experts who are interested in the languages of the region.

Not all of these people may be familiar with the geography of Vanuatu. So for the benefit of those who are not, I, as the editor, suggested some changes to the author, such as this one:

“people by the volcano say…” >
“people by Mount Yasur Volcano in the southeast say…”

Apparently, everyone on Tanna (and maybe in Vanuatu) knows about this famous volcano. But other readers may not share this knowledge, so for their benefit we decided to spell out the name and location of the volcano.

If you’re an editor, ask the author early on who his target audiences are and read the document with the various kinds of audiences in mind. Then suggest to the author any changes that may be needed.

As a writer, define your target audience early on and your writing will be crisp and clear.

Your fellow writer,


(Image at top courtesy of Free Digital Photos.)

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1 Comment

  1. Good post. We all at times tend toward the general rather than the specific.


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