3 Tips for Writing to a Global Audience

Dec 30, 2010

by Marie Griffin

Even though you are probably writing more than ever before—if you were to add up instant messages, texts, emails, and social media—writing a formal report on your research or business projects requires a different discipline. When you are writing to a global audience, which is becoming more common, the task becomes even more complex.

The number one rule of writing is always the same, however: Know your audience and write to them.

Here are three things engineers should keep in mind when they are writing to a global business or professional audience:

1) Focus on what your readers have in common

People across the globe have vastly different cultures and ways of life. If you pay too much attention to those differences, though, you may be paralyzed when you try to communicate.

David Brousell is a long-time business writer and editor who helped launch a new online media brand with a global scope called Manufacturing Executive, manufacturing-executive.com. His international audience includes engineers across all disciplines in manufacturing and the top executives that employ them.

Brousell recommends using concepts and terms that are understood all over the world. "No matter where people are, they understand the language of business," he said. "Talk about profit and loss, profit margin, time to market, and return on investment." If you are writing to an audience of engineers only, you can use basic concepts that are widely taught in engineering schools around the world, he added.

2) Assume your audience is smart and well educated

Like it or not, we all hold preconceived notions of people in other countries. Put them aside. If someone has received a professional education in another country or is doing business internationally, that person is likely to have above-average intelligence. Even if your readers speak English with a heavy accent, you can’t assume they don’t understand the written language. Make sure you write as clearly and succinctly as possible, and avoid "talking down" to international readers.

3) Take time to refresh your writing skills

Internet and mobile communication doesn’t require much formality. Most people don’t expect you to spend a lot of time composing an IM, text or email; the grammar and spelling standards are loose and many abbreviations are commonly understood. Even if you are writing to those same people, however, they will expect a different standard in a written report.

If you don’t write formal reports or memos often, don’t be surprised if you’ve become rusty. In fact, make a plan to consult with dictionaries, online grammar sites, old writing handbooks, or your most literate friends. Ideally, create a schedule so that you can complete a draft of your report a few days before it is due. Ask someone else to read it, not only for grammar and spelling but also to make sure you have gotten across your key concepts. Especially with an international audience, it is important to take the time to make sure your communication is clear.

Marie Griffin is an independent writer.

People across the globe have vastly different cultures and ways of life. If you pay too much attention to those differences, though, you may be paralyzed when you try to communicate.

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