Write On, 17 VTBJ, Spring 2017-#21

Author:Jared Carter, Esq., J.


Vol. 43 No. 1 Pg. 21

Vermont Bar Journal

Spring, 2017

Targeting the Audience: Tips and Tools to Make Your Written Advocacy More Effective

Jared Carter, Esq., J.

At the beginning of each semester I always ask my students to brainstorm what they think effective writing and good advocacy looks like from the reader’s perspective. As they shout out words to describe effective writing from the reader’s perspective, I try to keep up by scribbling each adjective furiously on the whiteboard. Invariably, they suggest descriptive words like clear,

concise, or organized. Next, I ask them to close their eyes and imagine they are the lawyer they always wanted to become. I switch whiteboards and ask them to describe effective writing and good advocacy from the perspective of that lawyer - the writer.

What quickly becomes clear to the students after they’ve shouted a new list of descriptive words at me is that the qualities of effective writing and advocacy are the same regardless of whether one sits on the reader’s or writer’s side of the desk. The obvious point of this quick exercise is that since both reader and writer want the same things in good writing, the effective advocate learns to edit their work to satisfy their own needs as the writer because doing so makes their work more persuasive to the reader. Ultimately, my goal is to start the semester off by encouraging students to write and edit their work with a laser focus on targeting their audience.

Targeting the audience is well known in the fields of media, marketing, politics and public relations. The idea is simple: in order to maximize impact the speaker must know the target audience and speak directly to what will effectively persuade that audience. For example, we all probably recognize that each word in every Super Bowl advertisement is vetted through focus groups aimed at targeting a specific demographic before it ever shows up on our television or smartphone.1 Similarly, most major political campaigns hire media teams that specialize in messaging and targeting a specific voter-set on the theory that doing so will help turnout more votes.2 It works. While we certainly cannot go to such extremes for every legal document we draft, the concept of targeting the audience is just as relevant to good legal advocacy as it is to Super Bowl advertisements. If we know what makes the audience tick, we can tailor our writing to maximize its impact on the reader.

In legal advocacy, the target audience is often judges and other lawyers. When targeting an audience, our first step is to understand that audience. In this context, we know that judges and lawyers are busy and that they read many legal...

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