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Invisible audiences: addressing the readers you don’t know about

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Posted May One of our clients came to us with a serious problem.
This organization worked with utilities and renewable energy technologies, producing reports, analysis, and recommendations that could influence multi-million-dollar investments. But they faced a specific challenge: the documents had to speak to multiple audiences simultaneously. To start, they had to include the complete technical data demanded by a technical audience, but they also had to make everything comprehensible to nontechnical readers, such as those in management and accounting. On top of that, regulatory auditors and other third parties would often further review their reports.
This is an extremely common problem in workplace writing. The audience of any written work or presentation should always be foremost in the writer’s mind. Only by properly identifying and understanding the reader can the writer know what arguments to make and how to structure them. But how do you do that when a single document might have multiple audiences, many of which will be unknown or invisible to the original writer(s)?
In some cases, the invisible audiences for a written document might be found in layers behind the primary target audience. For example, consider a report or proposal written for a Purchasing Officer (PO) trying to evaluate a major capital investment. While that PO is the primary audience, s/he may also need to forward the documents up the food chain while seeking approval from the CFO or other executives. The proposal or report might also need to be vetted by accounting, legal, compliance, risk management, or other departments. All of those potential readers beyond just the PO bring their own specific perspective and concerns to the table.
In other cases, business documents might need to address separate, isolated audience segments, as when a business sells products or services to different verticals (e.g., healthcare, hospitality, and financial service organizations). Any time that business writes product documentation, technical materials, or marketing collateral, it needs to ensure that the needs and perspective of each customer segment are addressed.
Business writers can deploy a huge range of strategies to ensure their written works successfully address multiple audiences. That report aimed at the PO might be structured to make some arguments “portable.” In other words, the writer knows the CFO will need to sign off on the deal, so the writer includes itemized arguments designed for the PO to take directly to the CFO.
Or if the business is writing a white paper that needs to speak to both healthcare and financial service companies, a single, industry-agnostic paper that includes supplemental materials targeted to specific sectors might be the solution. Or the writer may start with the same base draft but tailor the verbiage and data to different sectors, creating two separate papers from a single initial version.
But how do you master those strategies? The truth is, the ability to successful speak to multiple audiences at once is largely a matter of deliberate practice and developed skill. But be careful: no two companies are exactly alike in the work they need to produce or the audiences they need to address. Any business seeking skills’ development or training needs to ensure the program can be customized to their situation. That’s the only way to realize “significant improvement,” as our client achieved after a series of live that relied on actual writing samples from their organization’s writers.

Invisible audiences: addressing the readers you don’t know about

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(503 Reviews)