One aspect of becoming an effective writer—be it science writing, engineering writing, technical writing, or other STEM writing—is knowing your audience. Knowing your audience helps you determine what information to include in your document, what definitions and details will be necessary, and what tone and structure your document and writing needs. To keep your audience interested and reading, and to make your argument persuasive, you need to know who you’re writing for. Below are a few things to consider when writing for a STEM audience.
Determining your audience is one of the most important parts of the planning, writing, and revising stages of writing. In general, a STEM audience can consist of experts, technicians, executives, and non-specialists (such as the general public). An expert audience is a reader who has deep knowledge of your specific field of study, such as thermodynamics or gene therapy. These audiences read to keep up with new trends in the field or to inform their own research. Expert audiences know the subject matter well, thus allowing you to write with more technical jargon and less definitions. A technical audience comprises technicians who aren’t necessarily experts in the writer’s specific field of study, but rather have the knowledge to build, operate, maintain, and repair the products that experts design. A technical audience may need some technical jargon defined, but not all. An executive audience is someone who makes the business, government, or political decisions. Executives might not have as much technical expertise as technicians or experts; however, they hold a lot of power in which projects get funded, so an effective writer will take care to write clearly, put all important information at the beginning of the document, and define all technical jargon for an executive audience. Lastly, a non-specialist, or a public, audience will have the least amount of technical knowledge. They need to understand your writing for various reasons, such as knowing how to use a product or discerning what affect a project might have on their lives and community. For a non-specialist audience, you need to define all jargon and offer clear definitions for all technical terms.
There are three general audiences for STEM writing: primary, secondary, and gatekeeper. The primary audience are the main group of readers who are the intended target of your research. For a scientific journal article on genetics and birth defects, the primary audience will be other medical professionals who study genetics and birth defects (an expert audience). The secondary audience are readers that may have a different background from the author but need to read the article for other reasons. A secondary audience may include business groups, parents, students, or other members of the general public. These audience members may have a general interest in your subject or they may need to write a research paper for school. While your secondary audience is not your target audience, they are just as important of a reader for your writing. Lastly, the gatekeepers are the audience members who have the power to prevent your writing from reaching both the primary and secondary audience, such as peer-reviewers for journal articles.
In STEM writing, you need to know who your audience is, what they need and will expect from your writing, and how they might use the information from your document. One of the most important aspects of STEM writing is knowing your STEM audience. The STEM Writing Institute (SWI) offers writing workshops to all STEM graduate students, postdocs, faculty, and industry professionals who write for a variety of audiences. Whether you’re situated in engineering writing, science writing, technical writing, medical writing, or any other kind of STEM writing, SWI is available to help with all of your STEM writing needs.
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