Determining the audience and scope
Before you begin any project, you should be able to answer two questions:
1. Who is the audience—my readers? Everything you write will be read by a particular person. A book on assembling model trains will be read by people who collect, build, and sell model trains. This is your audience. People who want to learn how to raise chickens won’t be interested in your book.
Before you begin any project, state the typical reader of your project. For example, if you’re writing a cookbook, describe who will use the book, their level of cooking skills and experience, what kinds of meals they’ll want to prepare, and what they will expect from your book. An example of an audience description is: “This cookbook is for single, busy men who know nothing about Italian cooking but want to wow their friends with their culinary flair.”
As you develop your audience description, be aware of secondary (and tertiary) audiences. For example, if you’re writing a book proposal, your primary audience is the editor or assistant who will read your proposal. Your secondary audience is the person who will buy the book (who might not be the person who’ll read it). A tertiary audience is the person to whom the book will be given or read (such as a child or someone unable to read).
2. What is the project’s scope—its boundaries? In addition to stating your audience, you should be able to describe the project’s content and boundaries. To help you find the answer, ask these questions:
- What is this project?
- What will it include?
- And not include?
- Why am I writing it?
Determining your audience and scope before you begin the project helps you stay on track as you develop it. As you write, you’ll know how much information to include. For example, if your cookbook assumes no knowledge of cooking, you’ll know that you need to tell readers how to peel a potato and grease a pan.
We humans process information by becoming familiar with the general and moving toward the detail. When we read (or hear) all the information about a topic in the same place, we retain the information more quickly, easily, and completely.
The technique of placing all the information about a topic in one place and having it flow from general to specific is called “chunking.” (Not the most civilized name, but it gets the point across. Another name for chunking is “information mapping,” so take your pick.) One chunk includes introductory, conceptual, how-to, and optional (tips, cautions, and “gotchas”) information about one topic.
The easiest way to organize information from general to detailed is by using graduated section headings, with content to match. The following is an example of a chunk in our cookbook. (By the way, this is a great outline—imagine how easily you could add the content.)
A History of Vegetables
Types of Vegetables
Gotchas for Cooking Vegetables
(and so on)
Note: Chunking is different from the journalistic technique of the “inverted pyramid” (providing the urgent, immediate information first and then adding extraneous information), because chunking starts by introducing a subject, provides context, and then describes the details.
For example, think of how you might describe an address to someone traveling here from Mars, and you can understand the difference:
325 North Street
Making it work for you
Try these techniques on your current nonfiction project. First, describe your audience and scope. Then, think about how to organize the information into chunks. Have fun, and happy writing!
Copyright © 2011 by Marilyn C. Hilton