It is writing 101. The first thing every writing teacher will say. Know your reader. Write for your reader, whether that’s a book, web page or exhibition label. So then we sit with fingers at the keyboard ready to write, paused thinking about who is likely to read our words.
But I do question just how well we know our readers. Standard analyse of our audiences tends to focus on externals – factors like age, gender, income, family and hobbies. These are all good, worthy characteristics, that don’t go far enough. We need to dig deeper into understanding our audiences. We need to move beyond externals to really understand what’s going on inside, to how the minds of our readers work.
How your mind works can play a bigger role in how you read or what ideas you like than your taxable income last year. An introvert is going to receive information very differently from an extrovert. A ‘big picture’ mind is going to be bored by the facts and figures that a details mind will go searching for. If we can understand the mind better, we can write in ways that engage the individual and the wide diversity of minds that are our readers and visitors.
There are multiple frameworks that are useful to the writer keen to understand their audience. Three that I’ve found useful are:
- Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences says we all have the suite of seven intelligences from visual, kinesthetic, music, interpersonal, language, logic and intrapersonal. We each though have strengths, so I may be strong on a kinesthetic approach while you may understand the world best through sound and music.
- Myers-Briggs personality types are very well-known and too many to go into much detail here with their 16 types. The Myers-Briggs method does tells us that there are slightly more introverts than extroverts and significantly more people like realistic, concrete ideas over ‘blue-sky’ thinking.
- Ned Hermann’s whole way of looking at the brain identifies preferences in four areas: the rational brain, the organised detailed brain, the feeling brain and the imaginative brain. A person with a preference for using the feeling brain will want to see emotional issues acknowledge in the text, but a person with a preference for using the detailed brain will want to see information in a logical order, in the right format.