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Writing for Millennials

We all want to reach our audience effectively and millennials are a key part of that now. That brings up some key questions - how do you write for millennials and how do you write for millennials while still capturing your other audiences?

What's a Millennial?

Millennials are people who range from 18 to 34 years of age. As the Generation Xers and Baby Boomers grow older and exit your workforce, the Millennials are who'll be taking their place. Get used to them; they'll be around for a while.

What makes Millennials different from previous generations?

Millennials grew up during today's age of digital technology and 24/7 online communication. They're masters of technology, well-educated, self-confident, multi-taskers brimming with energy and eager to do Good Work. They prefer to work in teams rather than as individuals, and value social interaction and work-life balance over a long, competitive climb up the corporate ladder.

As compared to older generations, they expect more immediate feedback and results in their work, with correspondingly faster advancement. They like to work on new and challenging problems that require initiative and creative solutions. This often makes them harder to retain. They're more willing to change jobs for career advancement and less tolerant of jobs they consider boring or stifling. These are, of course, generalizations. There are always exceptions.

Millennials don't read, right?

One of the more unfair generalizations is that millennial have short attention spans and, as a result, don't like to read. The truth is that millennials out-read older generations. According to a recent Pew Research study, 88 percent of Americans younger than 30 said they read at least one book in the past year, compared with 79 percent of those older than 30.

That said, millenials read differently. They're voracious consumers of electronic media. They do web searches, scan websites, and read blogs. At work they're flooded with e-mails, text messages, instant messages, Tweets, and social media news feeds. The result is a low tolerance for writing that features excessive verbosity, circumlocution, and opacity, not to mention gratuitously technical discourse that takes an inordinately long time to get to the point – or in other words, sentences like this one.

They also tend to more visually oriented than previous generations. Plain text on screen is tolerable. Elegant and functional graphic design is a lot more appealing. Go for bite-sized paragraphs broken up with short and punchy headers. Write in the active voice so it's clear who is doing what. Include high-quality photos, illustrations, and graphics that show what you're talking about. Add meaningful interactivity that invites readers to make choices and practice skills, and you'll capture even the shortest millennial attention span.

Mind your tone, bro.

As important as it is to keep your prose style clear, informal, and concise, it's just as important to remember that 18 – 34 is a wide age range. The way you'd write for an audience of single college students should be different from how you'd write for business professionals with husbands, wives, and children.

Give equal consideration to subject matter. Your writing can be more relaxed and casual in an e-learning module for fashion eyewear sales associates than in a course for new investors. Know your audience, regardless of what age they are.

There's a bonus.

One of the bonuses of writing with millennials in mind is that non-millennials won't mind at all. It turns out that practically everybody appreciates clear, direct, well-organized prose that's easy to read and understand. If you can engage the millennial generation, you'll almost certainly engage older and younger generations as well.

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