Yes, Academics Need to Consider their Target Audience.

When I talk about writing research papers with the target audience in mind I am not talking about pandering. I am talking about choosing the appropriate words, framing and story to make it interesting and accessible to the people I want to read and cite my work.

This already begins with obvious considerations: I write in English because it is the working language of my target audience – and the most important journals in my field publish exclusively in English for the same reason. I also try to use some sort of standard English, so that native speakers with different dialects and non-native English speakers understand it.

Your audience isn’t interested in a vocabulary training exercise.

But that seems to be as far as a lot of people want to go. They overlook that jargon has the same problem. Because I want my work to be accessible to many researchers in my and related fields, I deliberately choose which words, abbreviations, or acronyms I need to introduce.

One may be tempted to introduce all the terms used. But having to keep in mind too many new technical terms, abbreviations, and acronyms puts an unnecessary mental load on your readers, which makes it harder for them to catch your messages. So, you want to only introduce the most important terms, and stick to more common language wherever possible.

Your audience isn’t looking for a textbook.

The same danger of swamping my reader leads me to thoroughly consider which information the reader needs to understand my motivation and the logic of my study. Unless it is indeed a review paper, I do not need to provide an exhaustive review. Instead, I carefully decide which background information I will present.

Your audience doesn’t want to read your lab log.

The information to choose from includes my results. I don’t put in every figure, datum, and test result I ever made on my journey, I show those that tell the story of (aka demonstrate) how I reached my conclusions.

Your audience wants to follow your reasoning: your science story.

Choosing the information your readers need to follow your thoughts, and putting it into a logical sequence, is storytelling.

Storytelling is not about making up some tale or being dishonest. My science is the story! And a good story in a scientific paper creates the wish to close a specific knowledge gap in my field, takes the readers on a journey of scientific investigation, and finally leads them towards the findings and conclusion – and it’s supposed to be pleasant read – at least concerning the readability.

Honesty, of course, is a key feature of communication in science. It is essential to acknowledge and address potential contradictions. That’s why we include control results, and “attack and defend” our findings in the discussion. This skepticism is part of the scientific story!

Test your manuscript with the target audience.

Most of us test our manuscripts with a test audience, already. You send it to co-authors, your send it to academic friends in the field, and you submit it to peer-review. All of this is target-audience-feedback.

When I receive the feedback, I ask myself: Is the criticism hitting a weakness in my study? Then I need to address it with additional scientific work. Is the criticism based on a misunderstanding of my writing? Then I need to clarify my writing. In other words: I adapt it to my target audience.