How to Write for a Non-Academic Audience
If you are passionate about your subject area, you may want to share your knowledge with the public. Getting your work read by a wider audience looks great on your CV, too. But writing for a non-academic audience is not like most academic writing, so we have some tips to help you start out:
- Think about your audience and tailor your writing style accordingly.
- Hook the reader from the opening lines (e.g. by posing a question).
- Focus on your main topic and avoid tangents. Think, too, about what you want to achieve with your writing and let this guide you.
- Keep your language simple, but don’t talk down to your readers.
- Have you article proofread before you submit it to the publisher.
Read on for more advice on writing for a non-academic audience.
1. Know Who Are You Writing For
Remember that your readers may not be familiar with your subject area. As such, you will need to think about who you are writing for and what your audience knows about the topic of the article.
You can do this by reading other articles from the publication you are writing for, which will give you a sense of who it is aimed at and its general tone. You may also want to read articles on similar topics from other publications to gauge the overall level of public knowledge.
If you have an idea for an article without a specific publication in mind, meanwhile, try visiting your university’s media relations department to see if they have advice or contacts to share.
2. Hooking the Reader
When writing for a non-academic audience, you need to hook your reader. You can do this by posing a question. For example, we might begin an article about artificial intelligence by asking:
Could a computer do your job? And what does the rise of AI in the workplace mean for the humans that are being replaced by technology?
As well as setting up what the article will address, this makes the issue personal for the reader. Alternatively, you could begin with an anecdote or structure your article around a personal experience. The aim is to provide an emotional core that readers can relate to.
3. Keep It Focused
The best articles for non-academic audiences discuss a single issue or idea in clear, focused terms. If you stray too far from your main topic, on the other hand, you risk losing your reader.
Think, too, about what you want to achieve with the article. Is it meant to explain a complicated issue for a non-specialist audience? Or is it an opinion piece where you are seeking to convince readers of something? Whatever your aim, let this guide your writing.
4. Simple, Not Simplistic
Your writing style may depend on the publication (ask if they have a style sheet or author instructions). As a rule, though, you should keep your writing fairly simple and informal. This may mean:
- Using everyday language when possible, avoiding unnecessary jargon.
- Defining any technical terms you use.
- Writing shorter sentences and paragraphs than you would in a research paper. Remember that clarity and concision are vital.
- Using subheadings to structure the article and guide the reader.
- Using bullet points and formatting to highlight key details.
Remember, too, that using simple language is not the same as dumbing down. You may need to avoid the complex justifications, technical language and endless footnotes of standard academic writing, but this does not mean you should talk down to your audience.
Instead, treat your readers like undergraduate students. They might not know much about the subject right now, but they are intelligent and eager to learn. Your job is help them do this!
5. Find a Proofreader
Finally, make sure to have your article proofread by someone from outside your field of study. As well as making sure your writing is free from typos, this gives you a ‘test’ reader who can highlight any passages that may be too technical or complex for a non-academic audience. You can then clarify these passages, if required, before you submit your article for publication.