Many writers will tell you that they write for themselves. This is the central thesis of William Zinsser’s chapter on Audience. He states, “you are writing primarily to please yourself, and if you go about it with enjoyment you will also entertain the readers who are worth writing for.” Fair enough. And perhaps this could apply to many types of non-fiction writing, where the writer is an expert, sharing a body of knowledge. But not so in education. As a professor and developer of online courses, I write for a specific audience. My audience is my students, and my purpose is to write in a way that leads to learning.
What does it mean to write for the student?
Spend time getting to know the readers.
Seek to understand what prior knowledge students bring to the learning experience. The writing must be tailored to that experience – how much you tell your students depends on what they already know. Dive too deeply into the material too quickly, and they will be set adrift. Start off too slow, and they’ll lose interest.
Connect the student to the content.
Look for angles into the student psyche, hooks to get them engaged in the concepts. Embellish with relevant examples, set in real-world contexts. Explicitly state why the student needs to know the content. Provide them with the reason…and the application.
Employ strategies that will facilitate recall.
Use storytelling to paint elaborate pictures with strong visual imagery. Use repetition to reinforce key concepts and ideas. Organize content in a way that is memorable, and ensure that each piece of information builds upon the last.
While many non-fiction writers may be able to write “for an audience of one,” educators don’t have this luxury. The art of writing for learning is less art and more science, carefully constructed to connect with the target – the learner.