2.3 Tailoring to Reader Types

Photo of an audience

As a technical communicator, part of assessing your audience means taking different readers’ needs into consideration and tailoring your message to meet those needs.

Types of Audiences

When preparing documents, it is important to remember potential audiences for your work. Awareness of the differences between Intended and Unintended audiences may impact how an author presents or includes information in a document, and may make a difference in the event of a legal issue concerning the document. Also, awareness of a complex audience will ensure that an author’s writing does not exclude any potential readers. You do not want to leave an important figure out if they need to be touched on.

Intended vs. Unintended Audience

Intended audiences are best thought of as the people you are initially writing to. It is the audience for which your document is intended. Unintended audiences may be anyone that comes across your writing at any point in time. In a professional setting, its important to be mindful of the unintended audience of any written work. This includes any email, memos or proposals produced in the course of business. In addition to being a good rule of thumb, it is in your best interest legally to remain professional in every document you produce as these documents may be used as evidence in court against either the author or the business from which they originated.

Complex Audience

Writing for a complex audience is different from academic writing. In academia, there is a specific audience for most pieces of writing, generally an instructor, teaching assistant, or a fairly small group of peers. In a professional setting, you will often write for a complex audience of people with different backgrounds, specialties, and expectations. With that in mind, avoid using terminology that is too technical so you don’t unintentionally exclude portions of your audience. This can become increasingly difficult when writing for larger and more complex audiences.

Tailoring Documents for a Specific Audience

Read “Tailoring Documents,” a handout from the Purdue OWL. Pay particular attention to the two reader types the article compares—skimmers and skeptics. The article focuses on meeting the needs of these two reader types in employment documents (cover and inquiry letters, resumes, etc.), but its advice can be applied to many other types of technical writing, including instructions, technical reports, proposals, and common workplace communications.


Additional Resources

"Appreciating Technical Communication Audiences." Wikibooks. [License: CC BY SA]


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