Who are you speaking to? And what do you want to say?

It may seem obvious, but an important starting point for any form of writing is to ask yourself who you are writing for and what you would like them to take away. It is surprisingly easy to lose sight of both the audience and the main message as you delve into a piece of maths or science that may have taken you months to figure out or understand.

Here are a few questions and exercises to help you focus.

This is part of our practical writing guide - find out more here!

Think about your audience

  • Who are you writing for?
  • How do they speak?
  • What do they already know?
  • Why should they read it? Why should they care?
  • What do you want them to remember?
  • Remember, you are telling each one of them your story

Things to try

  • Imagine you're speaking to a particular person
  • Actually speak to someone who fits into that audience
  • Think of good metaphors or examples that your reader can relate to or imagine, that help tell your story
  • Make it personal
    • Can you think of a human angle to your story?
    • Does your story answer a question or concern of your reader?
    • Can you link it to something in their daily lives?
  • What will make your story stand out to them? Can you make it topical? Can you think of good titles, images, movies? What will make them choose to read your story, rather than move onto the next one?

    Think about what you want to say

    • What do you want to write about?
    • Why do you want to write about it?
    • What makes it a good story?
    • What do you want a reader to remember?

    Things to try

    • Free writing: This is a great exercise to use anytime during the writing process when you feel stuck. Set a timer for some bearable length of time (say 8 minutes) and then go for it. Write anything you like: stream of consciousness, a list of bullet points, or anything in between. You could even write about why you are finding it hard to write! But write without stopping until the timer goes off.
    • Once you have some notes (say from your free writing exercise), have a look at what you've written:
      • Is all the important information there? What do you still need to include? What do you still need to find out?
      • Can anything be dropped?
      • Can you see a clear storyline or narrative?
    • Imagine you have to pitch your story to a busy editor who is not an expert in your field. You can only present:
      • A headline
      • A subheading or sentence summarising the story. (What would you tweet to promote the story?)
      • An image or movie
      How can you make the editor take note and choose your story?

    Back to the writing guide

    This content was produced as part of our collaboration with the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences (INI) and the Newton Gateway to Mathematics. The INI is an international research centre in Cambridge which attracts leading mathematicians from all over the world. The Newton Gateway is the impact initiative of the INI, which engages with users of mathematics. You can find all the content from the collaboration here.

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