Audience, Purpose and Organization
When writers collaborate on a project, nothing is more essential than reaching agreement on the audience, the purpose, and the basic organization of the project. Often, members of a writing team will begin with quite different ideas of the ultimate audience as well as different ideas about what that audience knows and is capable of understanding. The simplest way to avoid getting draft sections that are written in different styles--with different levels of complexity and technical content--is to spend a meeting discussing the kind of audience the project is designed to reach. Ask your writing team:
- What is the audience's level of expertise on the subject?
- What level of technical vocabulary is the audience likely to understand?
Closely related to audience is purpose. Writing project teams often have different ideas of the purpose of a document. This is why you will often find that products come with multiple manuals designed to serve different purposes.
For instance, a new digital camera may come with a heavily illustrated fold-out sheet that explains basic functions. That's for the purpose of helping an impatient audience to start taking pictures immediately. Next in the box is the longer manual for people who want to play with all the special settings. You can't serve both purposes well in the same document; neither can you serve different audiences at the same time. One of my recent projects could have had at least three different audiences and purposes:
- It could have been written to statisticians to demonstrate the utility of a particular analytical method;
- To educational experts to add to a specialized dialogue about educational methods; or
- To policy makers to help them understand a large public issue and to start framing new policies.
It was essential for the project team to decide the primary audience and focus because those three different audiences and purposes could not be mixed.
Finally, it is essential to create a working outline of the product--and then agree when that outline may be up for discussion, if ever. Some of the most challenging moments I have experienced in writing projects have come when someone, usually very late in a project, comes up with a fresh outline and imagines that it will be easy to just cut and paste everything.