"Find your niche and scratch it" is just one of the writing tips offered by Ryan Holiday, the media strategist and guerrilla marketer who helped turn American Apparel into a household name—one boundary-pushing billboard at a time. While we don't suggest anyone use Noodle to promote a rainbow of tee-shirts to thrifty millennials, we do advise all writers to take a literal page from Holiday's playbook, Perennial Seller, when it comes to defining your audience.
In this article, we'll cover:
If you already know everything there is to know about defining your audience (nice work) and think you landed here by accident, consider checking out other Noodle resources, like:
Defining your audience means identifying the most likely readers of your article and why they need articles like yours… before you start writing. While it's true that there will always be a special place in our hearts for personal essays that, simply, need to be written, Noodle's mission is to make the process of searching for schools easier. In order to do that, we need to know who our readers are, what they want, and what we can offer them. In other words: How deep is your v-neck, and who's going to buy it?
There are infinite ways to identify your audience. In most cases, your audience will be a composite of multiple factors. Speaking strictly to articles about education, here are the best ways to define your audience.
Where your readers are in their educations/careers? Does your work primarily speak to high school students thinking about going to college (and perhaps also to the parents/guardians of K-12 students)? Maybe you're writing for adults who never finished—or started—their bachelor's degree (but still very much want to).
The difference between writing for 17-year-olds and writing for those over 25 is everything—from the application process to work-life-school (and work-life-family-school) balance. Define your readers by where they are in their lives.
Readers in this life stage are often trying to choose the best schools for their children, learn how to support all stages of development, get advice on dealing with teachers and bullies (and sometimes even teachers who are bullies), and better understand things like nurturing soft skills, living with disabilities, and raising healthy kids.
In the United States, the average student-to-counselor ratio is a mind-boggling 482-to-1. Think about that for a minute. Even if a guidance counselor is fully aware of all 7,000+ colleges and universities in the country, what are the odds—no matter how amazing they are at their jobs—that these counselors can help students decide which schools will best fit their needs? And that's assuming these students have already decided that going to college is right for them (it's not right for everyone, and that's okay).
College-bound students need direct access to information that helps them understand their options for going to school (knowing online and part-time are available if they can't move across the country to get their degree or want to work part-time while doing so), ways to pay for schools, the real cost of loans and how long it will take to pay down their student debt, and more.
Sometimes called "comebackers," this audience segment faces a unique set of challenges that might not apply to younger college students. Students over the age of 25 might have families to support, full-time jobs to consider, and transfer credits to deal with. Understanding the hard costs, the amount of time required, and their options for going back to school are critical to this audience.
Comebackers need practical advice on things like which schools offer childcare, how to study for exams while working full-time and looking after their families, and which community colleges are feeder schools to four-year institutions.
When it comes to deciding if, when, where, and how to go to grad school, the considerations are seemingly endless. This audience segment needs help in understanding the differences between degree types, how long it will take to earn their degree, how much it will cost (and their options for paying—like whether or not their employer offers tuition reimbursement), what they can do with their degree, and how much they'll earn when they're finished.
Focusing on the career benefits are important—though it's critical to distinguish careers from earnings. Many people, like those pursuing a master's in social work, may choose to go to grad school even if their earning potential will not increase as dramatically as, say, it would with an MBA.
What questions does your reader need to be answered? Are they unsure how to pay for their degree? Do they want to know how long grad school will take, how much it will cost, and how much they'll earn when they're done? Maybe your article is for readers who want to know what they can do with a specific degree, and what the job markets will be like when they graduate. Identify the questions your reader is asking, and then let those questions guide your article.
For each of the above audience segments, here are a few starting points to understand their priorities:
Questions or feedback? Email firstname.lastname@example.org