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The reader: At the heart of the writer's process

Christine Paré, Certified Writer
Vice President of Communications
Société québécoise de la rédaction professionnelle


What do professional writers think about when producing a text? Of course, they give careful thought to the topic, while keeping the client's objectives in mind. But beyond these essentials, writers have an ever‑present concern: the need to connect with the reader. Whether they are called "addressees," "target audience" or "receivers," readers are always at the heart of the writer's process.

According to Henri Bergson, the essence of a writer's craft lies in the ability to make us forget that words are being used. The same applies to professional writers. Their goal: to enable the reader to grasp the message effortlessly, to make reading natural and fluid. To attain this degree of fluidity in communication, writers must know, as accurately as possible, who their readers will be.

Texts for the "general public": wishful thinking?

Unless they work in an organization with highly specialized products and services that target a specific clientele, writers are often called upon to write for an audience that is not clearly defined. The reason is that, in many cases, the text is intended for multiple readers: current or potential clients, partners, employees, etc.

When writers receive an order, many organizations wish to receive a "universal" text: one text for loyal clients, potential clients and partners alike. However, a text must be tailored to the concerns of the intended audience in order to achieve the established objectives. The belief that the same text can meet the expectations of both a client and a shareholder, for example, is something of a Utopian fantasy.

An angle for every reader profile

Put yourself in the reader's shoes. This is one of the skills that professional writers must develop. When the organization assigns the writer a task, taking the time to explain and define the audience is not a luxury. On the contrary, it is the cornerstone upon which all communication is based. It is also the best way to produce a text that will captivate the audience and meet readers' expectations.

For example, in a case where a school wishes to organize a fundraising campaign in order to improve the schoolyard facilities for the children, the school would ask for donations from the community and the parents, apply for government grants, etc. Each entity likely to contribute to the project has different objectives and consequently, different priorities.

The content will therefore vary from one receiver to another. The text for parents will appeal to emotion and the desire to provide a stimulating environment for their children. The text for the community will discuss the importance of the improvements for the whole municipality. The nearby businesses will want to show their "goodwill" and set themselves apart from their competitors, etc. There are as many approaches as there are reader profiles.

Whether to adopt a "one‑size‑fits‑all" approach that encompasses all readers or to target a specific audience—that is the question. In order for a text to appeal to a wide range of readers, it is necessary to find a common denominator. This means eliminating all statements that are likely to interest only a limited group of readers—or, alternatively, addressing all aspects of the topic and running the risk of boring the reader, who will ultimately stop reading.

Ask yourself the right questions

Who is the text for? A little thought has to go into obtaining an accurate reader profile. Here are some examples of information that writers may find particularly useful:

  • Basic demographic data: the reader's age, gender, education level, location, etc.
  • The reader's concerns, and the reader's expectations of the organization and the text to be read
  • The reader's lifestyle
  • The reader's background knowledge: Is the reader familiar with the terminology used by the organization? With the topic? If so, to what extent? Is it necessary to define certain words or explain certain ideas?
  • The motivating factors that could influence the reader to take some action, for instance, or to adopt a different attitude
  • The reader's opinions, compatibility with the organization, concerns, etc.

The list is far from complete. As a matter of fact, the clearer the picture is that writers have of their target audience, the more appropriate their choices will be, the more closely the text will be adapted to the audience, and the more likely it will be to reach the objectives outlined in the communication plan.

Tailoring communications, a clear advantage

The organization that employs a professional writer therefore benefits by:

  • conducting the necessary research to obtain the most information possible about the various target audiences;
  • planning communications tailored to various reader profiles; and
  • sending the writer information, even if it consists of strategic information that should not be made public. Conscientious and professional writers do not compromise the confidentiality of information placed before them.

Certainly, writers must be mindful of the medium by which the text will be distributed, the context and a number of other factors. But the fact remains that the entire communication process rests on a critical principle: the sharing of some common ground between the organization that is sending the message and the people with whom it is communicating. By relying on a thorough knowledge of the reader profile, writers are able to provide their clients with a unique text, tailored to achieve a specific objective for a well‑defined public—the criterion for effective communication.