14. February 2023 - Jeffrey A. McGuire

WHOM, the editing code. Podcast 09

How we create specific and clear communication through one of OSP's favorite Editing Codes: WHOM

In our 9th episode, our host Carl Richards interviews Felicity Brand, Christine Beuhler, and Jeffrey A. "jam" McGuire. We discuss how we use the Editing Code WHOM to create clear, trustworthy, and targeted communication that empowers your reader.


This is the Open Strategy Partners podcast, "Communicate, Connect, Grow!" At OSP, we specialize in strategic product communication. We help you communicate the value of what you do, connect you with the people who need to know about it, and grow.

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Know and identify your audience — the WHOM Editing Code

The WHOM Editing Code falls in phase A. Scope & Narrative Structure, in the OSP Pillar of Clarity. Our entry defines it thus:

WHOM — Identify (explicitly or implicitly) your audience in the opening section.

“The WHOM Code, like so many of our codes, is very granular, simple, and gets to a specific point; ‘Know your audience,’” says Jam. Identifying your audience early, in the opening paragraph, shows you respect your audience and their time. It also helps writers structure their work; knowing who you’re writing for can make all parts of the writing process flow more easily. You’ll decide more confidently (and quickly) regarding all the big and small decisions writers must make.

WHOM is empowering for readers because it gives them the autonomy to engage with or pass on your writing. Felicity points out that using the WHOM Code is especially important amid the high volume of content we face daily. “Being upfront and clear about who you're writing for right at the start helps your reader self-select if a piece of writing is for them, so they don’t waste their time.” 


Using WHOM consistently can also have positive ripple effects for your business. “As a marketer, if you nail WHOM, you reach your target audience that much sooner,” she adds.

WHOM Examples:

++ WHOM: "Teams delivering client sites often ..." 

++ WHOM: "Managing large number of servers can be challenging ..."

As a writer

Identifying your audience doesn’t have to be in the first sentence, but it should definitely be clear in the first paragraph. Double-points for getting it in the title! Your audience can also be mentioned explicitly or implicitly, as seen in the two examples above. As a general rule, the more targeted and specific you can be when identifying your audience, the better. “When I'm the writer, I really want to drill down and define who this piece is for,” says Jam. “Is it project managers in large organizations who face X&Y, or for senior leaders to understand and defend the business value of their choice of open source software, or business owners who want a multilingual CMS?”

This level of specificity makes for juicier, more engaging writing, but it also makes sharing that content with your network more appealing. “Our kind of storytelling at OSP aims to give someone a clear, memorable story that they can pass on to someone else,” adds Jam.

As an editor

The WHOM Editing Code is a powerful tool for editors. As Jam points out, the concept of WHOM influences all levels of a piece. “WHOM helps formulate everything — any calls to action, your conclusion, the level of formality you’re speaking with, whether you’re focused on economic terms, technical implementation, or strategic planning. So as an editor, I’m checking on WHOM throughout the piece.”

Felicity emphasizes the importance of empathy as an editor, and how WHOM facilitates her process. “As an editor, I think of myself as a reader advocate. I put myself in the audience's shoes and see if I feel directly spoken to right from the start,” she says.

Editors also keep an eye on how WHOM is applied throughout the piece. “If I notice that the content starts to address other audiences, then I'll make a note to the writer. I might suggest splitting the piece in two, spinning it off into a different piece, or perhaps broadening the scope of the whole article. Consistency is very important,” says Felicity.

As a reader

When you click on a piece of content, it’s a tiny leap of faith. WHOM creates a soft landing for the reader by embracing transparency and adding value via useful information. “Some technology articles might look too generic if you don't identify right up front who needs this and why,” says Jam.

For Felicity, a powerful aspect of WHOM is building a respectful relationship with the reader. “Clearly stating the audience means that as a reader, you will feel a direct connection with the content straightaway. You are establishing this bond of trust. You'll be confident that the information presented is relevant for you, and you can trust investing your time in reading that content is time well spent.”

Creating targeted communication takes practice — join us!

Use the WHOM Editing Code to ensure the right audience identifies with your writing, and to imbue your communication with clarity and trust. 

To get in touch with us, follow what we're doing, or learn about our Writer Enablement Workshops, email us at hello@openstrategypartners.com, or hit us up on Twitter, Facebook, or Linkedin.

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Episode Transcript

Brought to you by the five thousand fingers of Dr. T(ranscriber)! Includes bonus orthographical erorrs at no extra charge!

Carl Richards  0:07  
Hi, I'm Carl from OSP. And this is communicate connect, grow the OSP podcast. On today's episode, we're talking about identifying your audience in your writing with the editing code WHOM about our podcast. 

Carl Richards  0:22  
If you want to be a more effective writer, a more transparent editor, develop clear strategic thinking, or learn from our network of expert friends and colleagues. That's what we're here for. We divide our episodes across three themes, communicate, connect, and grow. This is a communicate episode. And we're talking about identifying your audience upfront with our editorial code WHOM.

Carl Richards  1:03  
The WHOM editing code falls into the scope and narrative structure phase of the editing process. And it's about being clear who you're writing for. In our documentation about this code, it says, identify your audience explicitly or implicitly, to help readers self select and identify with the content or not

Jeffrey A. McGuire  1:24  
Back with my pandemic hair! This is Jeffrey A. McGuire. I'm a co founder at open strategy partners. The WHOM code, like so many of our codes is very granular and simple and gets to a specific point. And that granularity and that specificity helps us as editors be very clear and specific in how we can teach and pass on our opinions in an objective way. WHOM is simply, "Know your audience." When you're looking at a piece of writing, when you're writing a piece of writing, when you're helping someone else improve it, it's really important to note who the intended audience is, because we essentially work in a marketing context, we can think about our target audiences, our target personas, and then from there flows a lot of our work. I think this counts though, if you're writing an email to a relative, if you are writing a speech to give at some alumni event, whatever it is, knowing who your audience is, can really help you choose the right word. As a practical tip, in our work, creating strategic communication. When you are writing the beginning of a piece, when you are writing the opening paragraph when you are writing the meta title and meta description for something that you're publishing on your website identify explicitly or implicitly who that article is for. And this is yet another trick to help readers decide whether to dive into your piece, or whether they should self select and go find something else. And I'd really, really rather someone read something that they're interested in. So an example of that would be teams delivering client sites often face such and so and then we know we're talking about web developers. Another example of implying WHOM you're addressing is is a sentence like managing large clusters of servers, it could be the same if we were talking about lawnmowers, or grass or, or home tips, you know,

Christine Beuhler  3:25  
I'm Christine Bueller. And I am a Communication Consultant at open strategy partners. And every day, I work with our clients on blog posts, landing pages, pretty much all types of marketing communication. So the WHOM editing code, which is W H O M just means you are identifying your audience at the very beginning of a piece of writing just so it's clear to a reader right from the beginning, who you are addressing, and if that piece of writing applies to them or not.

Felicity Brand  4:07  
G'day, my name is Felicity Brand. I am a communications consultant at open strategy partners, the WHOM editing code, it's not a grammar issue. It's about clearly identifying who your reader is at the start of a piece of content. So whether you identify them implicitly or explicitly, you're basically just stating who you're writing for in the opening the WHOM code is important, because these days, there's a ton of content. So it's really important to be upfront and clear who you're writing for at the start to help your readers self select, like self identify that this piece of writing is for them. Equally, they can self exclude, you know, they can choose to spend their attention elsewhere. And it just means that If you really nail that WHOM you reach your target audience that much sooner, so it's about clarity and respecting your audience so that they can empower themselves to keep reading or go elsewhere.

Carl Richards  5:15  
As part of the editing process, here's how this code could be used.

Jeffrey A. McGuire  5:19  
When I'm working as an editor, the concept of WHOM comes up first and foremost in how the beginning, and any calls to action and the closing are formulated so that people are very, very clear on whether this piece of work might be for them. As I'm going through, I think this the idea of knowing your target audience is important. And it helps us remember, if we're going to use a technical term or some industry jargon, at what level we might explain something it might help us decide the level of formality in our writing a great example from our work is, is it focused on economic terms and budget and planning results? Or is it focused on implementations of technical details? If it starts to get really mixed, I think probably, we're not clear on who given articles for so a lot goes in there, when you when you look at it in the sort of extended way,

Christine Beuhler  6:10  
As an editor, and I'm looking for WHOM right at the beginning, because it helps me to understand what the rest of the piece is about. And, you know, once I read it and understand it, I'm like, okay, the rest of this piece should be pretty clear to me, usually, I just go through and I make sure that it's consistent. You know, if we're speaking to marketers, we're going to emphasize different parts of a CMS, you know, we're going to talk about the front end versus if we're talking to developers, we're gonna go talk about the back end, usually just making sure that throughout the entire piece, it's consistent

Felicity Brand  6:53  
When I'm looking at WHOM, as an editor, I will look to the brief. So every piece of content that we write at OSP has a brief and in the brief, we stipulate who the audiences. And so then as an editor, I'm being a reader advocate, I put myself in the audience's shoes and see if I feel directly spoken to right from the start. And then we need to make sure it's consistent throughout, if I noticed that the content maybe starts to address other audiences, then I'll make a note to the writer to you know, maybe we consider splitting it into two, or you know, maybe there's room for to write another piece targeting a different audience. Or perhaps we can broaden the scope of the whole piece, basically, kind of restating WHOM to target a broader a broader group, understanding who you're writing for, and making sure that that piece of content is talking to who we said, we were trying to talk to.

Carl Richards  7:54  
Now let's explore why this code is handy. As a writer, when I'm

Jeffrey A. McGuire  7:58  
Drafting a piece, when I'm the writer, I may or may not have created the brief and the outline for that piece. In any case, I need to refresh my memory figure out okay, this is for project managers in large organizations who face x&y, this is for senior leaders to understand and defend the business value of their choice of open software, this is whatever keeping that in mind, our kind of storytelling is often to give someone a story that they can pass on to someone else. So I want to help them learn, understand, and then later express the value in something that they do or something that they care about, so that maybe they can convince somebody else. So I want to give that person the kind of story that they're comfortable telling it that they might find easier to remember,

Christine Beuhler  8:47  
When I'm writing a piece of content, I am thinking of the WHOM editing code from the very beginning, one of the first things I do when I'm drafting a piece is I identify the audience to myself, and you know, make sure that I'm identifying it in the piece of writing, because it influences the entire rest of the peace as

Felicity Brand  9:13  
As a writer when you're thinking about the WHOM code that's driven from the brief. So you've already articulated who your audience is. So then when you come to write, there are a few different ways you can tackle WHOM you can state your audience explicitly, or implicitly, it doesn't have to be in the first sentence, but it should definitely be in the first paragraph. I think double points for getting it in the title. You really need to get him clear as early as you can, because that's just about respecting your readers. So an explicit example might be if you are writing a piece targeted at UX designers, in your first sentence, you might say UX designers often have X challenge An implicit example, would be something a bit more like teams delivering client sites. Often, the reader in that example might self identify as Yes, I work in a team that delivers client websites, and they may choose to continue reading.

Carl Richards  10:18  
This writing code is very beneficial to readers for many reasons.

Jeffrey A. McGuire  10:22  
In our sort of mission to respect our readers, we want people to very quickly understand how they might benefit from something and what challenges a given solution address and how we are what we're writing about might solve and address those challenges. For example, we we have a lot of client work in the CMS space and content management. And it really, really helps then to say, am I talking with a web developer? Am I talking with a front end or a back end developer? Am I talking to a potential client or a marketer or a content team? Some technology articles might look too generic, if you don't identify right up front? Who needs this and why they need it. Right? So if you're managing a large fleet of surfers, if you need to generate multilingual content, if you whatever it is, that will help these people identify their challenge, and then they'll know that they could gain something by reading it well,

Christine Beuhler  11:20  
With a lot of our editing codes, I think, WHOM is about respecting the readers time, because when we're making it clear, right at the beginning of a piece of writing, if it's for them, or it's not. And if it's for them, great, then they keep reading, but we're giving them the chance right away to be like, Oh, okay, yes, this piece is speaking to me. And it could be useful. So I'm going to keep reading. And if it's not, they can go and hopefully read something else we've written.

Felicity Brand  11:57  
So as a reader, WHOM is really important, there's a ton of content on the internet. And a clear WHOM, clearly stating the audience means that as a reader, you're going to feel a direct connection with the content straightaway. And you'll be confident that the information presented to you is relevant for you. And that means that you can trust that investing your time in reading or consuming that content is going to be time well spent, by being clear who you're writing for. You are establishing this bond of trust that as the writer, I'm writing this content for you, the reader. And then as the reader, you're reading that thinking, Yes, this is written for me, it's relevant to me. And it's providing content that's useful to me, but I

Christine Beuhler  12:48  
I think the WHOM editing code is one of our most useful codes. Sometimes when I am reading other writing, that's not by OSP, I noticed that I don't know who this is supposed to be talking to. I think it's really it's really useful. And I'm glad we have it.

Carl Richards  13:24  
I hope you do your listener confidently self selected listening to this episode, and that we managed to share some relevant content with you. Next time you start creating a piece of content, think about who it's aimed at, and make sure you address them right up front. 

Carl Richards  13:40  
Share your examples or questions with us via Twitter at open underscore strategy, or email Hello at open strategy partners.com. This was one of the editorial codes we use at OSP. If you'd like to learn more in the meantime, come on over to open strategy partners.com.

Carl Richards  13:59  
Have a look at our writer enablement workshops case study offering for get in touch to talk about your strategy or product communication needs. 

Carl Richards  14:08  
Thanks to everyone who contributed to this podcast, all the peas at OSP thanks to our clients who believe in us. Shout out to Patrick Gaumont for our high energy maple syrup flavored theme music and to Mike snow for additional horn arrangements. Thank you for listening and subscribing. 

Carl Richards  14:28  
About our three themes on the podcast, you'll hear different members of the OSP team hosting episodes over time, communicate all things communication. We share how we tackle writing, editing, word choices, formats, processes, and more. Connect in depth conversations with interesting smart people about who they are, what they do, and how they approach their life and work as communicators, technologists and leaders grow. We cover approaches As to understanding and expressing the value of what you do, including tools, templates, and practical applications. We also feel strongly about building a mindful positive human first culture at work that's bound to pop up from time to time to this podcast is us figuring out communication connection and growing together. Subscribe now on YouTube, Apple podcasts or the podcast channel of your choice. Follow us suggest guests and topics. Ask us questions on social media. We are at open underscore strategy on Twitter. Until next time, I'm Carl Richards and this is the OSP podcast.

Jeffrey A. McGuire  16:14  
When looking for a left handed hammer, this is what's important to remember that kind of thing.


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