Audience Analysis: Who are we writing for and who is using this?
Audience analysis is something that I’ve always struggled with in my career. As a technical communicator who has spent more than seven years documenting various software products, I often wonder why it is so difficult to understand the users of a particular product or why it is impossible to have contact with them. Since documentation is so important, why does all customer contact and audience analysis come from product management, marketing, or support? If we are providing information to customers, shouldn’t we as technical communicators be the first line of contact? I understand that the main reason is to respect customers’ privacy and time, but that just seems like an excuse.
Similar to cases three and four in Addressing Audiences in a Digital Age, my company also provides enterprise network security services and products. We produce 500+ page PDFs and HTML help. We want to improve our documentation, but we don’t truly know our reader’s needs. Like most linear-based PDFs, our content is not chunked and some of the important tasks are buried in paragraphs. We are also interested in providing tutorials, but since we have absolutely no contact with our customers, we don’t know if creating these tutorials would be valuable.
Blakeslee explains that there are three things writers need about audiences:
- How readers will read and interact
- What context will readers use the information
- What expectations do the readers have before using the information
The chapter then gives detailed examples in the case studies of the strategies and methods writers use to analyze their audience. Some use bulletin boards, personas, and support call logs. Others use industry conference proceedings, whitepapers, or training materials. At my company, we get some feature request information from product management. We also receive software bugs that are logged if customers or employees find issues in our documentation. While our current methods aren’t the best, I feel encouraged to apply some of the questions listed in Appendix A to improve our documentation and to provide the best user experience possible.