A Better Way to Think About “Audience”

Admit it. Probably every writing training or writing textbook you have read, touched, or ignored has talked about the importance of analyzing your audience. Okay, that makes sense. But what happens when most people attempt to do this? They produce a long list of characteristics that sound like, well, everything and nothing.

Our audience is a mix of ages. They are all races and education levels. They speak primarily English unless they speak primarily Spanish. Some are interested in the topic and some are not too interested. Some read well, and others don’t.

Wow! That really helps! Here’s a better way . . .

Start with what you want an individual to do when they read the information. Really good discipline is to avoid an intellectual action, like “know” or “understand.” Instead, think about a physical action– do you want them to call a phone number? Return a form? Go to a website? We call this Task Completion. When you think in terms of task, you’re totally focused on your user and the purpose of the document.

Now you may have more than one user. Again rather than think in terms of vague demographic characteristics, think in terms of the task each one needs to complete. The task may be entirely different. When you know this kind of stuff, you’re in much better shape to think about the following questions:

1. Do the different tasks need different documents?
2. How can we organize information so both tasks are clear?
3. What details must be included?
4. What details are less important?
5. What do I have to tell them?
6. What do I want to tell them?

Focusing on Task Completion can help us truly analyze the audience needs and create documents that work.

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