The Travel Writers Field Guide: Who are you writing for? (and common writing mistakes to avoid)

In this blog post from the team behind the Travel Writer’s Field Guide explains how important understanding your audience is, whether it’s a newspaper or your mum. They also explain a few of the common mistakes people make in writing.

Before you even put pen to paper (or finger to keypad) the first thing you need to ask yourself is: who are you actually writing this for? You will have undoubtedly done this before – even in something as ordinary as sending a text message, you wouldn’t use the same language to your parent as you would to your lover. And that applies exactly the same in travel writing.

Perhaps you’re writing just for yourself, wanting to keep a travel journal or record of your adventure, or just make a note of something memorable that’s happened to you on your journey so you don’t forget it. Maybe you’re writing for your family and friends – sending an update email or postcards, or even about to upload a post on social media. It could be, if you’re a blogger, that you’re sharing your knowledge with people who have similar interests – outdoors, hiking, food, wildlife or whatever. Or are you actually writing to strangers such as the readers of a travel magazine or the travel section of a newspaper?

It may seem funny to spend time thinking about the people who are going to read it before you’ve even written it, but without knowing this basic requirement you have no idea what kind of style, tone or indeed content you should use.

Think about it. If you’re writing for friends and family, you have a very different tone and tell them very different things than if you were writing to people you didn’t know well but who shared your passion for travel. If you are an expert on cycling, for instance, your blog followers would likely have a love of cycling – compared to a newspaper audience whom you’re trying to convince should take a trip on two wheels.

Now imagine you were writing a piece for a fishing magazine about catching brown trout in Tasmania. The kind of copy you would produce would be very different than if you were writing for a travel magazine about fly fishing in Australia. The readers of the first one would already be expected to have a good working knowledge of the subject, whereas an audience for a general travel piece will have less overall knowledge about fish and fishing.

Common mistakes and things to avoid

We’re great believers that to become a better writer you need to know how to avoid doing the things that make you a bad writer. Here are a few definite no-nos:

Using complicated and PR-inspired language. We’ve all read about rooms being ‘well appointed’ but who really speaks like this? You would never come back from holiday, sit yourself down next to a friend, and tell them how your hotel was ‘well appointed’. No, you’d tell them about the massive four-poster bed, you’d explain how your room had an infinity pool overlooking the jungle and that every hour between 12.00 and 4.00pm you got freshly baked cookies delivered to your door. We’ve all heard marketing clichés. Do not be the person to use them – especially in your writing.

Making it too personal. While it’s great that you’ve been to a place and had a life-changing experience, or have revisited a place that you went to when you were a young girl or boy, it really doesn’t matter. Your parents, partner or kids may care but do we? And come to think about it – do they really?

This is something you need to ask yourself. It might be really interesting to you and people who know you to give some background and a personal connection to a place or an adventure. But, really, save the description about your time living in India when you were five or experience volunteering with orphans in Africa for your memoir.

Not keeping it in the toilet. Have you ever noticed that when someone comes back from a truly epic adventure all they want to talk about is their bowels? From traveller’s diarrhoea to the time you got caught short when you were queued up to see New Year in New York’s Times Square, it might seem to be a great story to recount to a mate over a pint, but, that does not a good article make. These stories are perfect if you do happen to be writing a blog post about ‘7 things to do when you have traveller’s diarrhoea’ or ‘How to make a makeshift toilet in the snow’, but if you are not talking specifically about lavatory habit then keep that stuff where it belongs – behind closed doors in the bathroom.

Also launched is our monthly Travel Writer’s Field Guide Podcast. It’s available on iTunes, Spotify and on our website

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