Know Your Audience

know-your-audienceMost of what we write is directed outward. Although the words are ours, how they are received by others will ultimately determine their effectiveness. It is important, therefore, to engage your readers, recognizing that they may not share your interest in or knowledge of a subject; may not be Princetonians or even Americans; and may well have very different beliefs and expectations. None of us is a mind reader, but we should always be mindful of our readers, taking their measure insofar as this is possible and choosing our words accordingly. Think of your text as one side of a conversation, not as a monologue.



Assume you know your subject better than your readers, so be prepared to explain what may appear self-evident to you, but only convey the information they require to respond intelligently. In cases of unequal knowledge, too much explanation can be as unwelcome as too little.

Avoid jargon and acronyms unless your readers speak your “language.” For example, most people think that “PEI” stands for the Canadian province of Prince Edward Island, not the Princeton Environmental Institute.

Err on the side of formality, especially if you are younger and less accomplished than the person to whom you are writing. “Hey Prof” and “TTYL” are not the best ways to begin and end your first email to a professor.

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