Push vs pull in effective communication

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The most effective communication happens when the audience wants to hear what you want to say. How do you meet (or create) this desire?

When you first start writing content – whether it’s a webpage, report, brochure, or fact sheet – your first thoughts are probably “What do we mean to public? or ‘What do we want them to know?’

This is of course an important part of the writing process; you need to know what your topic is and your key messages. This is the information you want to “push”.

But if you only think about what you want to say, you are missing out on a big part of the equation. The other side is “What do the public want to hear? This is the information that the public wants to “get”.

Putting yourself in the audience’s shoes can shape what you include in the content and how it’s structured. For example, you might want your audience to know that your project involved many organizations. But the public wants to know more about what your project has achieved. This does not mean that you should remove all mention of contributors, but it does mean that you have “Achievements” as the first title and “Participants” as a lower priority.

Documents that favor push over pull are particularly common in government. If you start talking about what the audience “should” understand or what they “should” know, you talk about pushing.

Instead, think about what interests the audience, what makes them tick, and what questions they really want answered.

For example, if you want to present information on health care regulation, the public does not ask “How does health care regulation work in Australia?” “; they really want to know “How do I know my hospital is safe?” You can cover similar things in your response, but focusing on audience attraction will allow you to speak directly to the audience and produce a document more tailored to their needs.

Balancing push and pull is essential to produce information that will be well received by the public and useful to the public.

Choose the best product for the purpose

One of the first things you think about in content development is what the product is going to be – is it a webpage, a fact sheet, a report, a poster. Often times, this idea is based on what a manager or team member has said, what “has always been done”, or what seems fastest and easiest. All of these reasons are “pushed”.

But this approach ignores “pull” – what the public wants and what would be most effective.

To favor the sweater, go back to the first principles before choosing your product:

  • What do you hope to accomplish (with this product, for your organization, for your audiences)?
  • What are your key messages?
  • Who are your audiences and what do they want to know?

By answering these questions, you can develop a strategy to maximize the impact of your content.

So instead of a fact sheet letting your staff know about procedural changes, you may need an infographic for your intranet and staff meetings that will guide them step by step through the new procedure. Instead of one big report for multiple audiences, you might need a technical report and then a plain English summary report. Instead of a poster, you might need an interactive web page.


Want to learn how to improve your content processes and create effective communication for your audience? Download a quick guide to effective content.


Ask your users

Whatever type of content you develop, getting feedback and feedback from the people who will be using it helps ensure that it meets their needs. Indeed, only your users can really tell you what these needs are.

If you don’t know where you are going, you might not get there.
Yogi berra

Listening to users allows you to check your ideas and approach in terms of what the product is, what information should be included, how it should be structured, and the language and tone you use.

You can research and talk to users before you start, to inform content development. You can also test the developed content with users and continue to refine the content iteratively. Research and user testing is typically done for online content, but you can use it for print publications as well.

Researching and testing users doesn’t have to be a laborious or time-consuming process. You can learn a lot from existing data sources and small groups of people. And a small investment in user research and testing will save time and money by not having to redo content, products, or websites.

Explore existing data

Depending on the subject and publication, user data may already be available in your systems or for free online. You can find:

  • Site analysis from existing web pages, to see what users are looking for or bouncing
  • Social media statistics, to see what users liked and shared
  • Search terms online, to see terms or phrases people are looking for
  • Other comments, such as user queries, complaints, and ideas.

Use existing data to identify key topics to include and which language to use. Call centers – if you have one – are invaluable for providing information on the issues your users are asking about.

Collection of new data

If you have specific questions about your content, you can collect new data.

In its simplest form, targeted data collection can mean asking your colleagues, friends, or family for their opinions on your content. More usefully, speaking or surveying audience groups can provide feedback specific to their context and needs.

You can collect data through surveys (by phone or online) or focus groups (usually with a moderator), or from ongoing feedback (with questions and contact details about the product or website ).

Usage tests

Usability testing – sometimes referred to as user experience (UX) testing – is the process of testing a product, feature, or prototype with real users. Most often, this involves testing different aspects of a website to make sure that users can find and understand the content.

For usability testing to be most effective, users should be members of the target audience, and testing should be repeated as the content evolves.

At the start of the project, users can complete card sorting or tree testing exercises to help you structure content in a way that makes sense to users. When you have a draft or a prototype, you can test it directly with users. It’s a good idea to include an actual content project in user testing, so that you can get feedback on the clarity and usefulness of the content.

Create traction

Of course, the message is always at the heart of effective communication. While thinking about push and pull can help shape your messages and products, in most cases, you are trying to say things to your audience.

The easiest way to create attraction is to tell the audience why the information is important.

For example, the opening sentence of this article tells you why push vs pull is important – it’s about effective communication. Hidden within that opening sentence is the author who says, “You should read this article because it is going to tell you something that will help you with your job.”

Tell your audience why the information is important. It is often about how the information relates to them or something close to their hearts: family or community, health, small business, environment, etc.

Acquire help

If you want to improve your content, help is available:

  • Biotext are content experts specializing in complex content, including health and biomedical sciences, environment and agriculture. We provide content strategy and design, copywriting, editing, news design, data visualization and infographics.
  • Our A quick guide to effective content provides plenty of tips for reaching your audience and running a content project.
  • We also provide live online training courses in writing and editing complex content, and the fundamentals of literacy and data visualization.

The Australian-style manual is an online resource that provides practical information on how to engage your audience, and how to write, edit, and show information.


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