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Let's assume that you have to write a document for work or study.
Your instructions consist of the title that you are to use and nothing else. Could you -- with only the title as a guide - write a suitable document?

Unambiguously, the answer is no.

Why? Because you haven't yet been told such things as WHO the document is for, WHY they want it or WHAT they already know (or don't know).

Without such information, it's most unlikely that you'll just happen to write a document that correctly targets these questions of who, why and what.

TIP #1: Your readers -- just as much as the topic of the document -- will determine what you write.

This article discusses these key questions and will help you to learn more about your readers and their needs.

Who will read this document?

Before you start writing, do your best to identify who will read your document. Will it be just one person, or might it be passed around to others?

If you're writing for a single reader, you're in luck. This will make it relatively easy to target your writing at his or her specific expectations and level of knowledge.

If you're writing for several people, though, they may have different expectations and levels of knowledge. If so, can you identify one of them as your main reader: the person whose interests you most need to satisfy?

If you can, it may be best to write the document as if you're writing just for this main reader. Trying to satisfy the needs of several different readers at once can be very difficult. You risk ending up with a document that tries to be everything to everyone yet ends up being nothing to anyone.

Sometimes it may not be possible to single out one reader as the main reader. You may have to write for several different readers (or groups of readers), and it may be important to satisfy all of them. In such a case, it might be best to write two or more separate documents, each one closely tailored to the different needs of a specific reader or group.

TIP #2: Before you start writing, clearly identify whom you're writing for.

Why do my readers want this document?

One of the most valuable questions you can ask your readers is why they want your document. What do they want to do with the information they'll gain?

The range of possible answers is just as varied as the range of possible readers. For example:

* Reader A may want to read a comprehensive introduction to the topic before she decides if and how to use the information further.

* Reader B may want to use your information to persuade a client or superior to a certain course of action.

* Reader C may want to use your information to evaluate an idea of her own.

* Reader D may want to use your information to evaluate an idea from someone else.

* Reader E may be a fellow expert who wants to review other opinions on the topic; i.e. yours.

* Reader F may want a brief and straightforward overview so that he knows just enough not to be embarrassed when the subject is discussed.

TIP #3: Before you start writing, clearly identify what your readers expect from your document.

What do my readers already know

Imagine that a colleague asks for your advice on a purchasing decision -- be it for a PC, a car, a house or a pet. Ideally, what level of detail would you provide in your answer?

a. I'd pitch my answer at a very technical level. They can always find out what it means later.

b. I'd pitch my answer at a very simple level in order to be certain that it didn't go over their head.

c. I'd pitch my answer at a moderate level and hope this was about right.

d. I'd pitch my answer at the level that is convenient to me.

e. None of the above.

Let's consider choices a and b. If you provide a very technical answer, you risk pitching the answer too high, and your colleague may not understand your advice. Similarly, if you provide a simplistic answer, you risk pitching the answer too low, and your colleague will learn little or nothing.

It may be tempting to choose answer c and say that it's reasonable to pitch your answer at a moderate level; that way it's likely to be about right. But how do you know what level your colleague will find moderate? If you're an expert on the topic, your guess about what constitutes moderate is likely to be too high. And if your colleague knows more than you realise, it may be too low.

We'll skip over answer d without further comment. :-)

We're left, as you may have suspected, with answer e. Ideally, you'd pitch the answer at exactly the right level to suit your colleague's existing level of knowledge. Of course, you can't know what this is without first asking how much your colleague already knows.

TIP #4: Before you start writing, identify how much your readers already understand.

So, before you start to write that next report, ask yourself these three questions:

* Who will read this?
* Why do they want this information?

* What do they already know?

Once you've answered these questions, you stand a good chance of submitting a report that will be both useful and well received.

Good luck.

You'll find many more helpful tips like these in Tim North's much applauded range of e-books. More information is available on his web site, and all books come with a money-back guarantee.

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