Understanding your reader – the Empathy Map

I talk a lot about identifying your target reader and getting really clear on where they’re at, what questions they’re asking, what language resonates with them, what they’re trying to achieve. You need to know and understand the person you’re writing for from extensive first-hand experience, there’s no substitute for that. But there ARE tools to help you think through and articulate what your experience has taught you, and apply it usefully to future projects.

One of the most useful is the empathy map, devised by Dave Grey for visual thinking company XPLANE. You can download it and find out how it works in more detail here: http://thetoolkitproject.com/tool/empathy-map#sthash.cFdFjnq7.dpbs

Basically, it’s a simple framework that allows you to capture the experience of your target reader in the round: what are they seeing, hearing, feeling, thinking, saying and doing in any particular situation – for example, when they sit down to look for help, whether that’s the answer to the question that’s driving them mad or knowledge to help them reach the goal that matters to them. 

It’s a very useful tool to use when you’re creating a persona (see my blog post on this for more information). And it’s a useful framework too for noting down observations after you’ve been talking to someone who strikes you as an example of your ideal reader (or indeed ideal user if you’re designing a product or website, or client if you’re planning a service, rather than writing a book). 

The two underpinning boxes – Pain and Gain – are a prompt to think about the key parallel drivers: what is this person trying to move away from (the Pain – this is often the strongest driver), and/or what are they seeking to move towards – what’s the Gain that really matters to them, and how do they describe it? It might be exactly what you can give them, but if you’re using jargon or focusing on features instead of benefits, they won’t recognise it. 

And as an added bonus, when you work on your empathy muscle, you become an all-round nicer human being. What’s not to like?

Empathy map