Forget the Technology: Rules of Audiences Still Apply

Spilka chapters 7 and 8 annoyed me. I’m sorry I am not afraid of the big bad digital age. In chapter 8, Blakslee (2010) says, ” one speculation is that audiences of digital documents may be different from those of print documents” (P. 200). My response is so what what if they are? Anything you write as a technical communicator you should be analyzing the audience. It doesn’t matter if a digital audience is different. If they are your audience, you should write for them. Blakesee (2010) goes on to say, “the Internet ‘may blow apart the entire notion of a selective audience’ because of its broad, and even limitless, distribution potential” (P. 201). That’s a bunch of bunk. Just because something is available on the Internet to the entire world doesn’t mean the entire world is going to view it. There are still selective audiences on the Web. People view what they are interested in. They don’t just view stuff because it is there.

Even when you write something for the web you have intended audiences even though it is available to everyone in the world. For example, all of the web content that I write is for consumption by people at the University of Minnesota. Anyone in the world can read it, but it is not for them. I use language the people at the U of M will understand. The other people that consume the content are not even a secondary audience. They are nothing. They are simpler there. They  should understand from looking at the content that the information is not for them.

It’s just my opinion, but I believe that technology only complicates communication if you fear it.

About chrismoellering

I am pretty much awesome!

Posted on November 13, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. I agree with much of what you say and I wonder – with the internet, is it the content that will have to change, or will the reader have to adapt to content?

    Whenever a company, government or other entity considers a project, one of the first considerations are economic. It is just not always in the pocketbook to be able to accomodate every audience for every situation. I see two possible scenarios to a problem. Say a company wants to be able to write for a variety of cultures. They can either:

    1. Train a small group of writers to write for every perceived scenario – or-
    2. Hire many writers that come from those cultural backgrounds to properly write the content.

    Number 2 is similar to our example where the original author of the email going to Mexico sends his draft to be “spruced up” by a local individual.

    While either of these solutions may work for larger projects, I can see many problems that only begin with economics.

    While it is easy for a site like http://www.UPS.com to allow for many different language translations, I do not see our technology ever being able to properly convert a document based on cultural expectations.

  2. Considering the audience will always be important, digital or not. An author or columnist will never be able to please everyone, as they shouldn’t! Those that are truly interested in a topic will not want the material “dumbed down” so everyone can understand it. If an individual wants to utilize the information, it’s important to assume they already know something or want to know something about the specific topic. We would be doing ourselves a disservice by writing for the consideration of everyone versus specific populations of people.

  3. Chris—

    I’m giving you a virtual hug because I love your post that much. I don’t understand why people make the Internet so difficult. My company fears the Internet. It’s the most annoying thing about my job. They think that all we want to do is surf the Web instead of working on our projects (They are kind of right because right now I’m writing this post when I’m supposed to be productive at work). Any who, what I’m trying to say is that if a company fears technology, then that company is not going to be as successful as it could be. My company is creating a Web site for our customers for the first time. This should have been done 10 years ago. They are doing it now because they just realized that the Internet might actually take off and become a normal part of society.

  4. Chris,

    In one word, you post can be described as “refreshing.” I would agree with you, the invention of the internet is not eliminating selective audiences at all. In fact, I would argue to say it’s making them more selective because you’re giving a person the entire internet and they’re narrowing it down to what they like – if that’s not being selective I don’t know what is. While I found the readings interesting, I sometimes feel that the authors are only focused on the doom-and-gloom of technology and while it’s a factor to consider, it’s not the only element that should be considered.

  5. Hey Chris – I kind of got a similar feeling with the readings for this week. In chapter 8 Blakeslee said, “However, as a field we have not yet addressed the shift to digital documents in our examinations of audiences with digital texts. We have not questioned traditional approaches to analyzing audiences and to carrying out audience adaptation” (p. 200). Then she went on for another 22 pages to tell us basically, “Nope. You’re going to be doing the same things that you did for print. You’re going to be stuck in the same stupid corporate situations you were before in terms of gathering/making up information about clients. Only, you’ll be able to correct your mistakes more quickly in digital media.”

    What really burned my toast when, on page 201 she suggested that some – ANY – of us would give up on trying to write for a specific audience because the internet is so broad that we might as well throw in the towel. “One risk with such a broad conception of digital audiences is that technical communicators might assume that they need not – and even cannot – analyze, understand completely or consider the audience much at all in their work…and it is futile and of little or no use to identify, analyze, and tailor technical communication to a target audience.” As you said: bunk. On that one, I say: Double Bunk.

    There is no way that writers are just going to give up and not try to figure out what the audience wants. That assertion is so preposterous that, while reading the text, I wrote “Not likely” in my notes. Any writer worth their salt is ALWAYS going to care about their audience. Yes, there are those who write for themselves (not worth their salt, by the way), but those of us who are professionals are always going to care.

  6. I don’t have much to add here that’s new. Just wanted to comment that I always appreciate “reading against” an author and your statement that there are still selective audiences on the web is spot on.

    While I stand by my blog guidelines that ask you all to put things in context and mention author names rather than saying “This week’s stuff…” or just diving into a topic, I recognize the fact that there aren’t many unique visitors to this site!

  7. To further your point, Chris, libraries have been around for a very long time. Don’t they act as the internet in a way? They have limitless distribution power. Blakesee’s idea that “the Internet ‘may blow apart the entire notion of a selective audience’ because of its broad, and even limitless, distribution potential” (P. 201), does not sound quite on target. Limitless distribution was available in the past; people just had to work a little harder to get information. If people write the information, even before the internet, the information was still available. There is a lot of information on the internet, but I agree that it doesn’t mean the majority of people will seek it out (just the potential is there).

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