In technical communication, writers, companies, and organizations all analyze their audiences. Analyzing an audience means thinking about who they are, what they already know about the subject and what they need explained, how they’ll use the information you present, and how they feel about the subject. Are they interested in the topic? Are they receptive to new ideas? Are they uneducated or misinformed about a particular subject? As you plan your document, you think about your audience so that you can:
- appeal to their needs and interests,
- make the information easy for them to understand, and
- present the information in the most effective format (we’ll discuss formatting and design in the next chapter).
In addition, as a technical communicator, you must also assess what you want from your audience. What do you hope your document will achieve? What action(s) do you want them to take? How do you want them to feel after reading your document? Analyzing your audience and understanding your aims will help inform your purpose, which is closely linked with audience.
Whenever you write, some clear purpose should guide your efforts. If you don’t know why you’re writing, there’s a good chance that your reader won’t either. Fulfilling an assignment doesn’t qualify as a real writing purpose, although it may well be what sends you to your desk. An authentic purpose, however, requires you to answer this question: What do I want this piece of writing to do for both my reader and me? Knowing your reason, or purpose, for writing a particular document is essential to its success.
The following sections will discuss both general and specific purposes, as well as the importance of understanding the rhetorical situation.
- “Exigence” – further reading on rhetorical strategies from Justin Jory, OpenEnglish @ SLCC)