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Pros plan message content strategically

A while back, I included a personal example of audience analysis. Thanks to Tom Orr for suggesting that I follow up by showing y’all the letter. I decided it might be helpful to share even more of the process — like how we developed the content for the first draft. So here goes.

Purpose & Audience: As a board member, my husband is writing a letter soliciting sponsorships for an outdoor sign at First Tee of Tuscaloosa .  (As a supportive spouse, I’m helping.) The purpose of this letter is to direct readers, and the bottom line message is “give us $500.”  In sum, we are addressing a large, moderately homogenous group of strangers with little relevant expertise and moderately low sensitivity to the request because it creates only a small imposition. (To review our full audience analysis, see Pros don’t settle for platitudes about audience.)

Pros think carefully about purpose and audience before they write so that they can be STRA-TE-GIC.

Message Content Development: To make readers ready to accept the letter’s request, we have to address their lack of expertise by developing informative content and their sensitivity by developing persuasive content. The sources of information we have available include: the First Tee of Tuscaloosa’s board notebook, First Tee brochures from the national organization, a previous solicitation letter from the First Tee of Tuscaloosa Director, my husband’s notes from a conversation with the Director, and my husband’s personal knowledge of golf and First Tee, as well as his years of business experience.

I made my husband crazy (hey — it’s part of my job) by forcing him to answer questions based on the techniques from the Revising Professional Writing (RPW) chapter on developing informative before I would begin a draft.  (See my Tutorial on Developing Informative Prose for more instruction.)

  1. What needs to be defined for this audience? He thinks the First Tee program should be operationally defined. We can use the mission statement.
  2. What should be described for this audience? Several program-related descriptions. Definitely the nine core values: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, resonsibility, perseverence, courtesy, and judgment. Also the cost of the program (both to the organization and to participants). The size of the national and local programs. Sponsorship-related descriptions. Definitely what advertising goes with the cost of sponsorships.
  3. What would be easier for this audience to understand with examples? Maybe the impact of the program on a specific child. Or the way values are taught within a specific lesson.
  4. What should be compared or contrasted for this audience? The program should be contrasted with junior golf. And maybe with competitive sports. (But that might backfire.)
  5. What needs to be classified for this audience? The sponsorships because my husband and the Director decided they should offer two levels.

I kept testing my husband’s patience level by asking questions based on the four areas of developing persuasive prose, following Stephen Toulmin, from a chapter in RPW. (See my Tutorial on Developing Persuasive Prose for instruction).

  1. What claims will benefit from evidence for this audience? (a) First Tee of Tuscaloosa is a “winning” organization; (b) the sponsorship sign will serve as decent advertising.
  2. What evidence will be persuasive for this audience? For (a), we should mention local participant numbers, as well as national growth; also national premier events like Pebble Beach tournament and honorary chairperson, George W. Bush. For (b), location of sponsorship sign and traffic at location.
  3. What criteria help this audience interpret evidence persuasively? For (a), participant data establishes growth (=winning) and national tournament and chair signal involvement of celebrities (=winning). For (b), location and traffic by signage establish potential market (=decent advertising).
  4. What objections from this audience should be anticipated? I’ve lived in Tuscaloosa long enough to suspect a few may believe the kids would be better off playing football.  (Clearly, they’re NOT thinking about the girls in the program.) I don’t think we can overcome this objection.

I should mention that my husband insisted we use some relevant portion of the Director’s previous letter.  It’s a reasonable request. I know how the world works. (Thank goodness the Director is a pro writer!)

Before I can share a draft of the letter, I need to work on a post about organizing content strategically. And I have a video tutorial I could update on the writing process, too.  Coming soon . . .

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