Honing in on Audience
Posted by Gina
In part III of Spilka’s Digital Literacy for Technical Communication, the focus is on the relationship between technical communicators and their audience, taking a deeper look at ideas such as ethics and communicating between different cultures. The overarching theme is the emphasis that technical communicators must, and for the most part do, place on their audience.
Although I am not yet a technical communication (TC) professional, as a student of TC I have quickly learned the importance of considering one’s audience in the field of TC. It is one of the first and most highly emphasized points in many of the foundational courses for TC and it is not hard to see why – the purpose of a technical communicator is to advocate for the user/reader/audience and ensure that all associated documentation is easily accessible and understood. An important part of this user-advocate role, I believe, is understanding the rhetoric involved in communication of all kinds and attempting to write or design for the appropriate rhetorical situation. This, to me, is what sets technical communicators apart from other communicators (e.g. writers) – the emphasis placed on how the audience will perceive what is being communicated and utilizing that rhetoric in appropriate and ethical ways.
As I was reading this section, my mind kept wandering to one of the many “articles” I find linked on Facebook daily. With the uprising of so many “social news” sites (e.g. Buzzfeed), it is hard to get away from articles that use pop-psychology and serve no purpose other than entertainment. As I was scrolling through my Facebook feed this morning, I came upon this article:
Out of curiosity, I went to the page and read through it (though these sites are notoriously difficult to navigate with only one portion of the list on each page – known as “click bait”). In situations like these, I most often like to read the comments that other Facebook users have posted on these links. As usual, this post was littered with comments of offended women going on about how they don’t care what a man thinks about their hair, they will do what they want, etc. Other comments were in response to those negative ones, claiming that the article was not telling you how to style your hair, or even that you should base your hair choices on what men think, but that it was just a little bit of insight into what men’s opinions are.
Aside from the fact that I don’t trust or believe these type of “survey” articles, due to lack of substantial research or any reliable study methods, it struck me as interesting that the primary controversy of the article seemed to be (as is often the case) about what the authors were actually trying to say with this piece. While this type of controversy is probably encouraged in the “social news” world, it is exactly the opposite of what a technical communicator strives for.
This is what I believe sets technical communicators apart from other communicators. The goal in TC is to be clear, precise, understood and to approach the situation from an appropriate rhetorical perspective so as to convey exactly what he/she means. This is not as easy as it sounds – as was exemplified by the above article, each reader’s perception is different and is clearly colored by past experiences, current opinions, and overall personality. This makes the technical communicator’s job that much more difficult to attempt to find a way to unite all those differences in opinion to convey one message.
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