Get in Tune with Your Demographic (Before You Even Start Writing)

One of the many difficulties of being a working writer is knowing what will appeal to a certain target demographic and then finding a way to work what you want to say into a style and format that will appeal to your readers.  Of course you want to strive to be yourself, but tackling a job that is meant to be viewed by senior citizens with medical problems is going to entail a much different approach than writing for a rock and roll fan magazine.  And even if you’re writing a lengthier piece that is dictated solely by yours truly, you no doubt have a certain segment of the population in mind.  So you need to have a good idea what will reach different audiences and how it will affect your writing before you even start.  Here are just a few areas you might want to address as you approach the dilemma.

1.  Language.  Your use of language will be greatly affected by your target audience.  For young readers, you’ll need to incorporate “their” vernacular, including slang of the day, which can be difficult to learn, especially if you’ve been out of the loop for awhile.  As for adults, you’ll no doubt require a fairly extensive vocabulary, while writing for elderly readers will allow you to use old-timey references (“Tippecanoe and Tyler too!”…okay, maybe that’s a bit too old…), although you will almost certainly have to tone down any harsh or possibly offensive language.  And certain industries will expect you to have a good handle on their specific lingo.

2.  Format.  This may be largely determined by the type of job you are undertaking.  Writing radio copy, blog posts, or short stories will all require particular formats.  But beyond that, formatting can be altered to some extent to fit your demographic.  Adult readers will be a lot more forgiving of (and sometimes even prefer) more complex vocabulary and longer sentence structure, while younger readers will be drawn in by a staccato and rhythmic tone.

3.  Length.  YA readers may find huge blocks of text or chapters that are 20+ pages to be a bit daunting, so the way you break up paragraphs could make a difference as well.  On the other hand, mature readers will need a little more detail in order to become fully immersed in the world of a novel, and if you’re writing shorter pieces, they will almost certainly want specifics (whereas young readers may skip over the “boring” parts).

4.  Driving force.  Creative writing is largely driven by character or plot, while other types of copy may have a focused topic or a particular product behind their creation.  As for how this fits in with demographics, you may need to tailor your driving force to your demographic.  If you want to relate to males age 18-35, a strong female protagonist may not be the way to go.  And discussing corporate hierarchy may not be the best way to reach the work-at-home-mom blogging crowd.

5.  Skill level.  Flexibility is an absolute necessity for most working writers.  You must be able to discover what your demographic is, determine what appeals to them, and then deliver it as if you were a member of the group.  Plausibility counts, so if you can’t mimic other styles, you’re going to have a problem.  For this reason, you should try a bit of everything to see what you’re good at before you decide to target a certain demographic.

Sarah Danielson writes for Wine Glass Racks where you can find a wine rack to fit your individual needs, taste, and style.