The Sunday newspapers used to be a big thing in my family. Every week my Dad would go to the newsagent’s to buy a tabloid and a broadsheet. Both came as weighty packages of many sections, often wrapped in plastic to keep them together.
Dad liked the sports pages, business and news. I enjoyed lifestyle, culture and the regular columnists. It was a Sunday ritual for years.
One day Dad came home with a new broadsheet, let’s call it The ST.
I quickly realised The ST was not intended for people like me. Its writers assumed that readers owned two homes and sent their children to fee paying schools.
I was indignant. The majority of British people go to state school and don’t have two houses!
It’s likely my family was outside the income bracket of The ST’s target readership.
There is a purpose to my story. It’s not to say that having a target readership is bad per se. It helps publications to provide consistent content, define their identity and attract advertisers.
What I am saying is it’s uncomfortable to be excluded from a piece of writing when you don’t expect it. The ST was a national newspaper. I had every reason to hope it would acknowledge average British lifestyles. It wasn’t a Swiss banking journal.
Writers exclude readers in all sorts of ways. By assuming that readers have money and privilege, that readers are healthy, belong to a particular culture, or have particular beliefs.
As non-fiction writers we will be asked to write for target readerships. I write for writers. Maybe you write for high school students or geologists.
But we have a responsibility not to leave anyone out within our target readerships. For example, if we write for walkers, we should remember that some have limited mobility. If we write for hairdressers, we should include those who specialise in African hair.
Leaving readers out can ruin their enjoyment of great writing. It’s so easy to slip up too. Mistakes I have seen writers make include assuming that no reader is an indigenous American, that flesh colour is pink, and that no Christian readers had converted as adults.
All it takes is a little thoughtfulness.