Part of assessing your audience means taking different readers’ needs into consideration and tailoring your message to meet those needs.
Generally speaking, there are two reader types to which your technical writing should be tailored—Skimmers and Skeptics.
Skimmers are typically busy or distracted readers—they often skim documents quickly, looking for key words, findings, or recommendations. The documents you prepare for a Skimmer should:
- State the main point clearly and up front
- Place the most important information at the beginning or ending of sentences and paragraphs
- Highlight key dates or figures
- Create an easy-to-navigate document that uses design effectively (headings and subheadings, white space, bullet points, numbered lists, bold text, etc.)
EXAMPLE: Both of the following examples represent the same experiences, but note the differences in language and layout:
Example 1: For the last several years, in my most recent position as Purchasing Manager, I am responsible for the oversight of $100,000 in project accounts. Additionally, I manage a team of four other buyers. I provide regular training seminars, including an in-office bi-monthly team-building session. To ensure excellence in the department, I also compile and publish reports to the president and board of directors.
Example 2: As Purchasing Manager from 2010 to the present, I am responsible for:
- overseeing $100,000 in project accounts;
- managing a five-buyer purchasing department;
- providing training to other buyers, including team-building sessions; and
- compiling and publishing reports to the president and board of directors.
Each example uses the same information, but most people would agree that Example 2 is easier to read and navigate because the writer uses bullet points and white space effectively to separate important information.
Skeptical readers, on the other hand, are careful readers. Skeptical readers (such as your instructor or supervisor) tend to read documents thoroughly, questioning the writer’s claims and evaluating the work’s validity. In order to meet the needs of the skeptical reader, it is necessary to support/illustrate your statements with sufficient details and specific evidence, such as:
- Statistical data
- Dollar amounts
- Specific dates
- Case studies, etc.
EXAMPLE: Note the difference in the two short sentence examples below; one is vague while the other is specific:
Example 1: The company has excellent customer support.
Example 2: The company has customer service representatives available around the clock to provide user support by telephone, email, or in-person consultations.
*In addition to following these general guidelines for writing to both busy and skeptical readers, it is a good idea to determine who your actual readers are (or are likely to be) and to write specifically for them.
When preparing technical documents, it is important to remember potential audiences for your work. Awareness of the differences between Intended and Unintended audiences may affect what information you present and how you present it. Awareness of a complex audience ensures that an author’s writing does not exclude any potential readers.
Intended & Unintended Audiences
Your intended audience is the audience for which your document is intended (your instructor, co-worker/colleague, supervisor, etc.).
Your unintended audiences consist of anyone who could come across your writing at any point in time. In professional and technical writing, it’s important to be mindful of the unintended audience, including any emails, memos, or reports you produced.
Primary, Secondary, & Tertiary Audiences
A primary audience consists of people to whom the communication is directed.
A secondary audience consists of people who will not directly act on or respond to the document but who may need to be aware of it.
A tertiary audience consists of people who might take an interest in the document, such as interest groups, government officials, and the general public.
Writing for Complex Audiences
Writing for complex audiences is different from academic writing. In academia, there is a specific audience for most pieces of writing, generally an instructor or a fairly small group of peers. In a professional setting, you will often write for a more complex audience of people with different backgrounds, specialties, and expectations. With that in mind, avoid using terminology (or “jargon”) that is too technical so you don’t unintentionally exclude portions of your audience.
- “Tailoring Language to Your Audience,” Purdue OWL
*This page borrows from the following source: "Tailoring Employment Documents." Purdue OWL. Source link.