Audience, Purpose, and Occasion – “The Big Three” in Science Writing

When writing any form of document — whether it be a blog post, website content, marketing material, magazine article, or academic manuscript — it’s always important to keep in mind “The Big Three”. In fact, these three things are so important to me, that I keep them written on post-it notes around my desk. Let’s take a look at what they are and what they really mean when writing, and the questions that you need to ask before you put pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard!):

Who is your audience? The first step to a successful story, is to think about who you are writing for. Is your writing for a specialized audience? Or perhaps you are writing a blog post for a more general audience, that’s likely to be featured on social media. The age and breadth of your demographic will always affect the way that you write.

Who is your secondary audience? For example, you may be writing an academic paper to target a specific field of scientist, but you have to get it past your secondary audience, your peers and reviewers first. If you are writing some web content for a company website, your primary audience is likely to be the company’s clients, or potential clients. But keep in mind that your secondary audience, potential career-seekers, business partners, as well as new staff in the company, will likely be spending a lot of time on the website too.

What do you hope to achieve in your writing? Write down the top 5 points that you need to get across in order for the piece to be successful. Are you trying to be informative, or educational? Or just entertaining? Always ask yourself plenty of questions about the purpose of writing before you start. There is nothing worse than starting to write something and realizing halfway through that you’ve gone off track and have started rambling.

Thinking about the purpose, asking yourself lots of questions before starting, and writing down your intentions for the piece will help structure and define your writing.

Where and when will your writing be read? Is this a marketing piece, a blog post or an academic paper? Will the writing appear in an educational magazine and have to be formatted for print? Are you presenting your writing at a conference and need to write in short bullet points? Or are you creating an academic paper and need to comply with certain style guides?

Use these questions to help you define your occasion. Think about whether you need to be writing in long sentences, short bullet points, or in easy-to-manipulate blocks of information.

If you think before you write, focus on the “Big 3” and use a carefully thought out heuristic, I promise that you can’t go wrong in any form of writing that you undertake.

Have fun and happy writing!

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