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Why Audience Analysis Is Essential in Technical Writing

by Molly Carter

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While understanding an audience is important in all types of writing when it comes to technical writing, it’s essential to being successful. When you’re a technical writer, knowing your audience determines what information you present, how you present it, and even how you write about it. But how do you get to know your audience, and why is it so important to do so?

Who Is Your Audience

Your audience is your intended reader, or who you’re writing for. In technical writing, your audience is often going to fit into one of the following categories:

  • Executives—Those who are funding the product
  • Experts—Those who are coming up with ideas about the product
  • Technicians—Those who are building the product
  • Non-specialists—The end-user

Your document’s goal typically determines its audience. For instance, if you’re writing for funding, your audience is going to be executives. If you’re writing an instruction manual, your audience is going to be the end-user of the product.

This is important because the way you write your document is determined by the scope of your audience. The general rule is the less the audience knows, the less technical your document will be. So when a document is for the layman, it shouldn’t contain overly technical language, should clearly define terms, and avoid technical jargon. Yet when the audience consists of experts, the opposite is true, as the more expertise the audience has, the more technical the document becomes.

When There’s More Than One Audience

Sometimes, you’ll have more than one audience. There will be your primary audience, who is your targeted reader, but you may have a secondary, or even tertiary audience that you need to keep in mind.

Here’s an example: you’re writing a Standard Operating Procedure for a specific job position. Your target audience is the person who will hold that position. Yet, more than just that person may read the document. A secondary audience may include the management and HR team, who will use the job position occasionally during audits or reviews. A tertiary audience, sometimes called the hidden or shadow audience, could be potential job applicants for the position, who may have access to the document during the interview phase.

Without keeping the needs, goals, and interests of all of these people in mind when you write your document, you could fail to communicate the necessary material, confuse the reader, or worse, offend them.

But where does this information come from? And how do you learn about your audience? The easiest and most effective way for the technical writer is through an in-depth audience analysis.

What Is an Audience Analysis?

An audience analysis is a tool that allows the technical writer to gain a more complete perspective of who the audience is and what their goals, interests, and needs are. Completing an audience analysis is the first step in document preparation, and without it, you can’t effectively plan the document or start writing.

Through an audience analysis, you learn:

  • Who your audience is
  • What their goals are
  • Their background, knowledge, experience, training, etc.
  • Their needs and interests
  • Demographic characteristics
  • Any culture and communication preferences

With the knowledge gained from an audience analysis, you’re able to best reach the document’s goals, as well as your audience’s. It also allows you to adapt tone and style, as well as the jargon you use, to match the expectations and understanding of the audience.

How to Complete an Audience Analysis

When completing an audience analysis, the more information you gather about your audience, the better your analysis will be and the easier it will be to write your document. Understanding the goals, needs, pains, and interests of your audience allows you to build a document that is both persuasive and user-centered, characteristics that would be lacking without an audience analysis.

Type of Information

It’s necessary to get as much relevant information about your audience as possible. To do so, be sure that these key questions are included in your analysis:

  • Who is the audience?
  • What do they need?
  • Where will they be reading?
  • When will they be reading?
  • Why will they be reading?
  • How will they be reading?

Gathering the Information

But how do you get to know this information? That depends on your specific situation. If you can, meet with members of your audience to discuss their needs and expectations. If you can’t physically meet with them, observe them. Watch how they speak and interact to determine their needs, values, and attitudes.

If neither of the above is possible or fails to produce enough specifics, here are more ways to gain information for your audience analysis:

  • Surveys and questionnaires
  • Popular opinions and stereotypes
  • Personal experience
  • Brainstorming
  • Audience feedback
  • Marketing departments

Build a Persona

Once you have the information about your audience, you need to put it into a format that helps you write your document. You do this by creating a persona. Take the information you’ve gained through the audience analysis and create a specific persona to represent the audience, remembering to keep end-goals in mind. Give this persona a name, age, job description, and personality. Know his or her demographics and expectations. And now write your document to influence this specific persona.

Remember, when it comes to technical writing, audience analysis is essential and the foundational step to document development. With a little bit of planning and adapting, it can guide you through the whole of document preparation, help you write more persuasive copy, and improve the end-goal outcomes of your technical writing.

About the author

Molly Carter has been creating online content for over six years and wrote her first SOP nearly 20 years ago. She creates guides, blogs, articles, website content, and more for pharmaceutical printing companies, SaaS providers, insurance companies, and more. She also specializes in health and wellness, outdoor recreation, and addiction. You can connect with Molly through Writing Assistance, Inc. at www.writingassist.com or sales@writingassist.com.

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