Answer 3 Questions to Captivate Readers

Some people think that rules of writing don’t apply universally to all writing genres. That’s not quite true. While developing a novel does differ from writing a memo—and one of my writing class mantras is “memos aren’t mystery novels”—overall, more commonalities than differences exist.

When you understand that, you’ll be better equipped to tackle multiple writing tasks.

Let’s face it. No one solely writes memos or reports. Even if you write only web content every day, it’s rarely on the same topic or for the same audience.

So, how can you captivate your audience, regardless of the topic or their knowledge of it?

Put yourself in the reader’s shoes. Then make sure your writing answers three questions:

  • What’s in it for me?
  • Why should I care?
  • What should I do about it?

It’s easier to show this than explain it, so here’s a short example. Note that the topic sounds “technical,” but only some of the target audiences will have any background to understand this from a “technical” point of view. How you present the topic and what you focus on are key. See how those differ by writing genre and target audience.

Topic: new bone marrow transplant procedure to treat secondary cancer arising after treatment of primary cancer

Type of writing

Target Audience

What’s in it for me?

Why should I care?

What should I do about it?

Newsletter   article/web content


I may need
this some day
Know the latest Bookmark/save
Grant   application Review committee

Cull the best of the best research

Emerging clinical application Approve funding
Memo to
OR staff
Surgical team

How can
my team prepare for this

Adapt to/use the latest techniques

Assess resources, information gaps and training needs
Memo to
Risk Management
HR, nursing, quality improvement

Understand patient and physician

Assess treatment,
length-of-stay and discharge policies
Rewrite policies if needed
Report Insurance companies Understand latest treatment options Determine insurability, based on
results to date

Assess: monetary risk w/ coverage, how to process claims, whether to write new policies re. eligibility

Ever hear advertising folks talk about “pain points?” The goal of every ad is to touch a nerve, speaking so deeply to an audience that it moves them to action. That concept isn’t limited to advertising. All audiences want to be able to relate to what they read or hear—they want it to “speak” to them. Figure out how to “speak” to your audience by asking the three questions listed above—and answering them in your writing.

Universal application.

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