Writing can be viewed as being writer-centered or reader-centered. Things like diaries and journals are primarily writer-centered—they are written primarily for the benefit of the writer. Some of your academic writing so far may have been largely writer-centered in demonstrating your knowledge on a particular subject.
Technical communication requires that you shift this mindset and write for the benefit of your reader—or that you design the content and structure of your communication for your “user.” This mindset should be informed by having a thorough understanding of your audience. Analyzing audience means thinking about or researching who your readers are, what they already know about your subject, how they feel about it, and how they are going to use the information you present.
Watch the following short video from Will Fleming about audience:
Use the following guidelines to help determine your audience’s characteristics:
- Who is my target audience? Is it one reader or many? Are they internal or external readers? Is there a chance someone other than the intended recipient might read the document (co-workers, supervisors, etc.)?
- What is their perspective on the topic, on me, and on the document I will write? What are my readers expecting to do with the document? Why has it been requested? What is my role and relationship to my readers? What do my readers need to know? What do they already know? What do they NOT need to have explained? How do they feel about your subject matter—are they receptive or potentially hostile to it?
- What is my goal or purpose in writing to these readers? What am I trying to communicate and/or accomplish? What do I want them to do as a result of reading this document? How can I plan the content to meet my readers’ needs?
- What is my reader’s goal? Why does my audience want or need to read this document or receive this information? Answering this
Getting a clear understanding of your audience is important in communicating effectively. It enables you to imagine your audience as you write and revise, continually asking yourself whether what you have said will be clear to your audience. Could your content be clearer, simpler, more direct, for example? Are there any demographic or cultural concerns I need to be aware of?
Watch the following short video from Penn State technical communication professor Michael Alley on analyzing audience, purpose, and situation:
Gathering Audience Information
As you plan your communication, there are several ways to begin gathering information about your audience:
Ask yourself what you already know about your audience:
- What are my audience’s demographics (age, education level, geographical location, etc.)?
- What are my readers’ expectations for this document?
- How do my readers feel about this issue? Are they receptive to new ideas or might they be
- How do my readers feel about me?
- How will my audience use my document?
Research your audience:
Reading some general information about your audience is helpful. Many companies and organizations post information about their staff on the organization’s website. In addition, doing a few simple internet searches about your audience may reveal useful information. Also, technical communicators are increasingly using social media to learn about their audience—LinkedIn profiles are especially helpful, for example, but other social media platforms may be useful as well.
Interview your audience:
Consider preparing a few interview questions that will help elicit information about your readers’ needs and expectations. This can be done in person, by phone, or via email.
Perform a needs assessment or audience profile sheet:
- “Audience Analysis” from David McMurrey’s Online Technical Writing.
- “Audience Analysis In Technical Writing: How To Get The Facts Right,” Helpauthoringsoftware.com.
CHAPTER ATTRIBUTION INFORMATION
"Key Concepts." Technical Writing Essentials. [License: CC BY] Alley, Michael. "Analyzing Purpose, Audience, and Occasion." Vimeo. Online video. November 2019.