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Know Your Audience

By: Liz Wu - Updated: 5 Oct 2010 | comments*Discuss
 tone Article Writing Journalism

When writing a journalistic article, there are many factors to consider, such as your length, structure, and deadline. While most of these will already be spelled out for you before you begin (your editor wants a thousand-word piece in a narrative style by Thursday), there are other things that are more subtle: tone is one of them.

If information is what you say in a piece, tone is how you say it. The manner in which you convey your message can be just as important as the information it contains: your choice of words can either draw a reader in or turn them off.

Tone transforms the nuts and bolts of a piece into a unique work and can take many forms: conversational, informative, sarcastic, neutral, opinionated, and so on. Depending on the type of article you're writing and its intended readership, your piece is likely to transform accordingly. Let's imagine that you are going to write about bicycles. Below is a list of approaches (with examples of titles) you might choose, respective to the other elements:

  • For a blurb in a daily newspaper: neutral: Annual Bike Race to Kick Off Tomorrow
  • For a trade publication on bicycles: informative: Racing Bikes vs. Mountain Bikes - the Pros and Cons of Each
  • For a magazine on parenting: conversational: Remember Old Ruby? Why Bikes Make the Best Birthday Presents
  • For a website geared toward college students: sarcastic: How to Avoid Getting Run Over When Riding Your Bike
  • For an editorial column: opinionated: Why Beer and Bicycles Don't Mix -the Mayor Should Have Stayed at Home
Another important factor to take into account when writing your piece is who will most likely be reading it. Young, cynical urbanites? Educated professionals? Wealthy vacationers? Pet owners? Children? Just as you wouldn't want to write too casually for a paper geared toward serious readers, an opinion piece lacking in bite will bore those looking to be entertained.

Crafting an article requires a lot of thought and preparation. Making sure your piece reflects an appropriate tone will raise its chances of pleasing readers and, of course, your editor!

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