The focus on readability and comprehensibility is important for any writer, but it is doubly important when you write for a European audience, for readers in other countries.
A heterogeneous target group that don’t know your country
Writing to a foreign, European audience may seem a daunting task. You are writing to a group of individuals who may differ from each other based on their educational and job background, cultural or ethnic identity, age, language competencies and level of exposure to European cooperation.
Each country has its specific circumstances in culture, history and political life. This also goes for adult education. From country to country the historical roots of adult education differ. So does the relationship between state organised education, commercially run education and education based on volunteers and civil society organisations. The lines between vocational training, general adult education, political education and education for leisure are also drawn in different ways from country to country.
Most of your readers will not be familiar with the situation in other European countries, and one tends to expect things to be organised in the rest of Europe like in your own country. Very few things can be taken for granted. So, how to address such a heterogeneous bunch that don’t even know the most basic facts about your country.
Some common ground
This is a huge challenge to any author. But it is not impossible, at all.
Consider this: regardless of the many differences between you and your target group, there are as many similarities. In fact your similarities probably outweigh the differences. You both work in adult education which means that you deal with the same kind of problems in your working life: where to get funding? How to get adults excited about learning? What didactic methods to use? How to network with local or European NGOs?
You may have gone through similar education or training for the job. You share a set of common concepts and professional language. And what is most important: it is likely that you share a set of common values, at least to a degree. You probably believe that lifelong learning is important and that learning has a transformative effect is people’s lives.
All this leads to the following important conclusions:
- You are not writing to a group of unknown foreigners, you are writing to colleagues. Write as if talking to a colleague, about themes you would talk to a colleague.
- What you write about and how you write about it reflects your values. One important task of writing about AE themes for Europe is to make these common values visible. This strengthens our European professional identity and is also good for advocacy for European lifelong learning: We have a common cause.
- Writing to colleagues is somewhat different from general journalism. This kind of writing has a strong problem-solving dimension. Colleagues want to know what innovations and good practices are used in other countries and whether they could be adapted to their country. More on this below!
- Writing to colleagues has another important aspect: networking. Every article not only transmits a piece of information or an experience but also reaches out to colleagues, stating “This is my work/my organization, these are our aims”. This may be a trigger for partnering in projects or informal networking. Bear this in mind when you write!
Summing up, even though your reader does not know that much about your country, you share some basic concepts, values and aims. You will often find him/her eager to know about or learn from adult education in other countries. You just have to help her or him a bit.
Learn to know your reader
How do you help your reader form another country understand your article? Here we give you five steps to give yourself an idea about how much help s/he needs:
1) The first rule in this context is that you cannot just translate an article that you already wrote for you own native readers. When you write an article to be published in your language and your own country, you are allowed to expect from the reader some basic knowledge about your country and about adult education in your country. Actually, you risk offending your reader if you explain very basic knowledge about your country in the article. But these details may be necessary for a foreigner to understand your article.
When writing an article for a European audience on a matter that you already dealt with in article for your own country, you don’t have to go through the phase of defining the content of your article and of collecting information all over again. But, you probably will have to start writing from scratch to make the article attractive, relevant, interesting and readable for a foreign reader.
2) You can think of the reader as a colleague from another country, and you can draw on your own experiences: What kind of information and explanation do you miss when you read about adult education other countries? Did you ever meet and talk to people of other countries about adult educations? What did they ask about? What did they tell about their own country? Where especially do adult education in your country differ from other countries?
3) Make use of your colleagues. In your organisation, there may be colleagues who are involved in international cooperation, who participated in European seminars. Ask what you need to explain most carefully in your article and have one of them read your draft.
4) You may even give a colleague in another country a call or send a passage of the article to him or her, and ask if it needs more detailed explanation.
5) Lastly but importantly, to recognize a story idea in European AE, you need to have some kind of a “big picture” of what is happening in the field, what trends are there and what “people are talking about”. You can gain this kind of insight by reading general media and follow specialized European adult education media such as Elm (previously LLinE) and EPALE. Order newsletters from big AE organizations such as EUCIS-LLL and EAEA and perhaps order news digests from media agencies.
Keep it simple!
These efforts will often create a dilemma:
Unfortunately there is no manual or text book to lead you through this dilemma. You have to experiment, you have to take chances, and you have to make the necessary balances.
A simple advice is to be even more clear on the subject and the topic than you would in article for native readers. Unambiguity is the key word. Keep it simple, even if it means that you must drop some of the details and nuances.
There is another method that may help you stay clear of boring fact recitation and still make the article useful for the foreign reader. You report on the subject and development from a classifying and comparative perspective. By this, we do not mean articles comparing three different countries in Europe. That is a genre in itself. But at some point of the article, you can explain traditions, self-images, dialogues, institutional forms, stakeholders, financing methods in your country by comparing with another country. At the best, this help the reader understand the specific reality of your country better.