3. Who is Your Audience?

In this section, we will consider the importance of knowing your audience and being as inclusive to all members of your audience as possible. 

Are you writing an email memo to your team? A research proposal that you want someone’s feedback on? Or something to help new team members: a training manual or a glossary of frequently used terms and acronyms? You need to have a clear idea of who your audience is, and what you want to communicate with them. This includes being aware of their language proficiency levels, particularly when members of your team are IEHPs. Everyone who is licensed to practice in a health profession in Canada has met language testing requirements, but there are certainly “soft” communication skills and knowledge that are not reflected on a language test.

The following video looks at some of the practicalities of identifying your audience and writing inclusively for that audience.

(To read along click here.)

It is important to be aware of humour, acronyms, jargon, and obscurity in your writing, which can all contribute to miscommunication. These items are explored in the following video.

(To read along click here.)

Jokes and humour are a challenge when working in a language other than your first language. For example, translations and cultural references may differ resulting in miscommunication (see here).  When appropriate, it’s fine to have a lighter tone in your writing, but remember that not all jokes or expressions will be understood by everyone—the opposite of inclusive.

In any kind of academic or scientific context, when a more formal style is required, there can be a tendency to slip into a more obscure style of writing, which may prevent understanding. Obscurity is a challenge for all your readers, but especially for those who don’t have the same cultural references or those whose first language is not English. This is similar to the use of jargon and acronyms, which can often exclude people. On the other hand, jargon and acronyms can help make communication more efficient, as long as all terms have been clearly defined for the audience. For instance, give your audience a glossary of frequently used jargon and acronyms—or at the very least define them the first time you use them in any piece of writing—and then everyone will be up to speed.

One of the best things that you can do for the IEHPs on your team is to encourage them to ask questions when they don’t understand what has been said or written. You and other team members can also offer to read through what they have written, to give them support and confidence in their writing.

This next video talks specifically about things to keep in mind when writing for an audience that includes people whose first language is not English.

(To read along click here.)

Salem-Wiseman and Zaman use the acronym COCOA CAT1, which is helpful to keep in mind as you begin to write. (We will see examples of all these elements as the course progresses.)

Using the COCOA CAT framework, writing should be:


1 Salem-Wiseman, L. and Zaman, S. Writing for Canadian Health Professionals. Toronto: Nelson College Indigenous (2nd edition), 2014 – p.18.

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