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I used to teach evening writing classes, and my students knew that I had a day job in corporate communications. Sometimes they’d ask, ‘What mistake do you see most often?’

Most of them worked in corporate settings too, and some lacked confidence in their writing. My sense was that they wanted a punch line, an example they could laugh at (“Even I know that!”).

But I could never come up with one that satisfied. For me a typo is a typo and they’re hardly ever funny. But if you want to talk errors, there is one that’s sadly common. And that’s a lack of consideration for the audience.

Know Your Audience

So many good writing practices follow from knowing who you need to reach. Based on that, you make choices on length, tone, the amount of background and detail you need to cover, whether there’s jargon you need to cut out, even the channel you use.

It’s the most essential starting point, yet so many clients look at me with surprise when I ask who their audience is.
“Everyone,” they blink, annoyed that I’m asking such an obvious question.

That response isn’t really helpful.

Content that’s intended for everyone ends up getting read by no one.

Readers sense when you know who they are. It shows you respect them, that you’ve devoted some energy to creating content worth their time.

It may sound like a school exercise, but I live by it. Before you create your first draft, write down who the intended audience is, with as much precision and detail as you can manage. Who are they exactly? How familiar are they with this topic? Why would they read this piece? What’s in it for them? Are you pushing them to read it, or is it something they will seek out on their own? If they read it, what will they know or do differently?

Fleshing out some answers to these questions is the best possible investment you can make in a first draft — especially if you’re working with a third-party writer.