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Choosing a Knowledge Level for Your Target Reader

By John Bond, Publishing Consultant, Riverwinds Consulting

Your research is done. You have been thinking about getting down to writing for a while. You have decided on your format (e.g., poster presentation, peer review journal article, monograph, textbook). Maybe you have a target publisher or website in mind.

Before you start to write, think about your target reader (or conference attendee or book customer) and what their level of knowledge is. This may seem like a given but take a moment.

You may be writing about a development in your field, but will your ideal reader be new to the field, a veteran, or a knowledge leader? Another possibility is your reader might be from a connected discipline. All of these individuals will likely expect or need different levels of explanation of your ideas. Sometimes a description of advanced, or even basic, terms is called for.

Many novice authors will say, “I am writing for all of them!” While your material in concept may be of interest to all of these levels (or other disciplines), your presentation may not hold the attention of all of them. Content written for a novice is unlikely to hold the attention of a thought leader. Conversely, a high level concept piece written to advance your field may appear dense or difficult to someone less familiar to the area.

Choosing an “ideal reader” when commencing your writing is essential.  What is their academic background? Then add to this their place in their career. Novice or veteran? By doing this, you will lay the groundwork for your entire work. Some writers picture an actual person or colleague. Either way, gear your writing only to that person. Do not try to cover the entire range. If you write for everyone, you essentially are writing for no one.

You might say, then what happens to the people you are not writing for? First, the people “above” or “below” your writing in knowledge or experience level, already know it. If I am student in the field, reading your piece about a deep concept, I know I am in some heady waters. Likewise, if I am a leader in the field and reading a primer on a topic, I expect to breeze through it.

Some writers may actually state at some point in the writing their assumptions as to the reader’s level of knowledge or expertise.

Either way, be deliberative in your writing. Consider your reader’s level of knowledge carefully. Clear, focused writing increases your chance of publication and getting in the hands of that ideal reader.

John BondJohn Bond is a publishing consultant at Riverwinds Consulting. He just released a new book: The Little Guide to Getting Your Book Published: Simple Steps to Success. He is also the host of the YouTube channel “Publishing Defined.” Contact him at