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.

About peahleah

Youngest of four, left home at 17, traveled the country, and wound up in Austin.

Posted on November 2, 2014, in Workplace and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I felt this post ended abruptly, but perhaps your final paper could extend this point: “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.”

  2. A common problem I run in to is the concept of internal vs. external audience. Internal audiences are stakeholders in the content creation (departments, individuals, sales reps etc.), while external audiences are those outside the direct reach of a company’s system, to whom reading content is optional and not obligatory.

    Often, a writer must stand in between both worlds, trying to relate the need of brevity to an internal audience while delivering relevant content to an external audience. I once had a marketer try to insist that a particular post on a sale include a line to an obscure hashtag that was NOT being used by anyone organically. Just because content fits a campaign does not mean an external audiences needs or wants it. I think the questions in this weeks reading can help writers hone in on what is needed vs. what is wanted.

  3. I struggle with this, too. Part of my responsibility is to create blog articles for the company website, but since they can be searched and read by anyone I need to make sure I keep them specific but not too technical so that the average person can start reading and not feel completely lost and confused.

  4. natashajmceachin

    Your inability to get useful audience input and feedback seems like it would make your job nearly impossible. I have not yet begun my career but this is definitely something I will look out for.

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