Push vs pull – listening to your audience

When setting out to write a document – whether it’s a brochure, report, webpage or fact sheet – your first thoughts are probably ‘What do we want to tell the audience?’ or ‘What do we want them to know?’

That is of course a major part of the writing process; you have to know what your topic and key messages are. This is the information you want to ‘push’.

But if you only think about what you want to say, you miss a major part of the equation. The other side is ‘What does the audience want to know?’ This is the information the audience wants to ‘pull’.

Putting yourself in the audience’s shoes can shape what you include in the document and how it is structured. For example, you might want your audience to know that your project involved many organisations. But the audience wants to know more about what your project achieved. That doesn’t mean you have to delete all mention of the collaborators, but it does mean that you have ‘Achievements’ as your first heading, and ‘Participants’ as a lower priority.

Documents that favour push over pull are particularly common in government. If you start talking about what the audience ‘should’ understand or what they ‘have to’ know, you are talking about push.

Instead, think about what the audience is interested in, what they are driven by and what questions they really want answered.

For example, if you want to present information on healthcare regulation, audiences are not asking ‘How does healthcare regulation work in Australia?’; they really want to know ‘How do I know my hospital is safe?’ You may cover similar material in your answer, but focusing on audience pull will enable you to talk to the audience directly and produce a document more relevant to its needs.

Balancing push vs pull is critical to producing information that will be well received by – and useful to – the audience.