Technical Writing Aid

Performing Audience Analysis

The project manager or assignment editor gives the technical writer a description of the task, the deadline, budget, and contact information for the subject matter expert and co-workers, such as a graphic artist, programmer and Webmaster. The tech writer performs an audience analysis before writing. The writer identifies the audience to help determine the complexity of the document. The audience wants to know about the product and its installation, configuration, use, maintenance, and possible dangers.

In general, a writer must address three topics before writing:

Audience
There are different levels of audience knowledge:

  • Experts are extremely well versed in the subject and do not need a lot of background information or definitions. Documents written for experts are usually difficult because the technical writer must have extensive knowledge of the subject matter. An instructor manual is an example of an expert level document.
  • Technicians have less theoretical knowledge than experts have, but usually have hands-on experience with the product. They might need some technical clarification. A troubleshooting and repair manual is an example of a technical level document.
  • Novices have little or no knowledge of the product. Define all technical terms for the novice, both within the text and in a glossary. Include examples and illustrations to clarify instructions. A DVD owner's manual is an example of a novice level document.

Purpose of the Document
Essentially, the technical writer asks why the document is necessary and what content must be included. The writer does not use the same format for an internal employee manual, meant to define rules and regulations, as for an external annual report, which presents financial details to investors. The writer must incorporate the legal requirements. For example, the employee manual requires material safety data sheets (MSDS) to comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the annual report addresses mandatory accounting disclosures for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Style and Content
The format of the document must be appropriate for its content and intended use. The writer finds out where the audience will read the document. Choice of paper, colors, and fonts depend on the user and location of use. For example, an archive document requires acid-free paper for longevity. Templates are handy for universal documents. All documents benefit from plain language writing that is clear and concise, regardless of the audience. Visuals should match the style of the document.

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Last Updated: 07/29/2014

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