Shoes by the front door as an illustration of knowing your audience

Put the Shoes by the Door: Why Knowing Your Audience Matters

Can we write effectively without considering our readers? The four Gospels provide a biblical example of the importance of knowing your audience.

One bustling morning when my children were all between three and six years old, I enlisted their help with a few simple chores and learned the importance of knowing your audience when communicating your message.

The task assigned to our youngest daughter was to “put all the shoes by the door.” 

Central to the main living area of our small home stood our front door. Our entry closet was so packed and awkward to access that we avoided opening the doors. In our laziness and tight quarters, shoes and coats frequently found temporary homes in convenient locations around the living room. To tidy things up without unleashing the closet volcano, we resorted to neatly lining up our most often-worn shoes near the door. 

If I had told our oldest daughter to “put all the shoes by the door,” a few minutes later, the entrance would be tidy with five pairs of shoes side-by-side. If I delegated the same task to our son, he’d have turned the chore into a game and spent half an hour trying to slide each shoe into place or measuring the distance from which he could successfully toss them. In the end, they’d resemble a row. But that morning as I delegated, I thought nothing of these hypothetical scenarios. I simply doled out assignments and carried on with my own tasks. 

Later, I called out to the kids, “Whoever finished their chores can join me for a snack!” All three bounded into the kitchen, beaming with satisfaction over a job well done. Eager to please, they all chattered at once about their accomplishments. I decided to make a big deal of their hard work by performing an inspection and heaping on the praise. 

My inspection began unexpectedly. As I approached the entryway, I saw a looming mountain of footwear. Where did all these shoes come from? How many shoes are there? And why are they in a pile? Attempting to hide my astonishment, I inquired about this haphazard display. Proudly, our daughter said, “Mommy, I did just what you said! I found all the shoes in the house and put them by the door!” Indeed. 

Our three children are all delightful, and they’re all unique. We’ve learned over time that our youngest daughter interprets things more literally than the rest of our family, so we bear that in mind when communicating with her. The day of the shoe mountain, I had forgotten to consider how she might interpret my words. After a gentle explanation of what I meant, we both giggled about the misunderstanding and worked together to return each shoe to its rightful spot. 

One Message, Four Audiences

Effective communication demands some knowledge of those who will receive our words. We see this principle in action in the Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote about the same events and with a similar purpose, yet each book reads differently. This was intentional because each Gospel was written for a different audience. 

  • The Gospel of Matthew was most likely written for an audience of Jewish Christians because it was written in Aramaic and uses language that implies the readers were familiar with the Old Testament and prophecies about the Messiah and the kingdom of Heaven. 
  • The Gospel of Mark was written for Roman Christians. The language of this Gospel includes word choices the Romans were familiar with and references to the Roman culture, including servanthood. Mark explains Jewish customs because his audience isn’t Jewish and, for the same reason, he doesn’t use many Old Testament references. 
  • The Gospel of Luke was written specifically to a cultured Greek convert named Theophilus. 
  • The Gospel of John was written to Christians of Asia Minor, possibly around Ephesus.

Who we write for affects how we write.

A Practical Writing Exercise for Knowing Your Audience

Knowing your audience matters. Who is your message for? Who is the reader you hope to connect with through your written words? How does your reader think? What do they already know about your topic? The clearer you can answer those questions, the more effectively you can communicate. 

Try this practical writing exercise. Pick a clear message or specific story you want to write. Choose three different readers—a child, someone you don’t know well (maybe a neighbor or coworker), and a close friend or family member—and write a version for each of them.

Now compare your three versions of the same message or story. What are the main differences? What are the similarities? 

Whenever you write something to share with others, know your audience before you finalize the piece. Read it through their eyes to ensure it can connect as intended. 

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