It’s often said that the first step to writing well is to imagine yourself as the reader. Whether you’re writing an article for a magazine, a memo for your colleagues, or a short advertisement on Craigslist, before you start, stop and think about your typical reader. Picture your reader actually reading the piece you are planning to write. Ask yourself questions like these:

  1. What does your reader want from your article? What kind of information is essential and what might be unnecessary?
  2. Does the reader need anything explained? Think particularly about things that might seem obvious to you. (Acronyms and technical items can often confuse a reader who may not be specialized in your area of expertise.)
  3. How much time does your reader have to read your article? Typically, your reader is in a hurry!
  4. What kind of tone will appeal to this reader? Does your reader appreciate formal language or informal language? Is your reader likely to be familiar with American culture and values? How old are your readers? What kind of education do you expect them to have?
  5. What does your typical reader care about? What kind of things will turn your reader off? Does your typical reader think logically and rationally? Perhaps you should consider appealing to your reader’s ethics and values? How does this differ from the way you approach information? Most importantly, remember you’re writing for your reader and not for yourself!

Go through this exercise more than once because you’re likely to have more than one reader! If you’re writing a piece that you want several of your colleagues to read, pick three of them. Once you’ve been through this exercise, then think about the purpose of your writing. (If it isn’t clear to you, it’s unlikely to be clear to the reader.) That’s the next step to writing well!