|If there is such a thing as the
"secret to good writing," then you are about to discover it: audience analysis. If absolutes about writing
exist, this is definitely one: audience analysis determines everything about a piece of writing, from
what you say to how you say it. Believe it: There
are no rules in writing; the audience rules.
In my former position as a magazine editor and today as a book editor, I'm often asked by beginning writers, "What's the secret of writing well?" My response never varies:
1. Target a template. First, identify the template (annual report, accident report, employee evaluation, how-to manual) that is being called for, then collect samples of the best writing in that format--from your workplace as well as overall industry.
2. Crack the code. Now,
DEVOUR the samples. Your goal is to decode the template's formula. Know
exactly what the audience expects: the organization, document design,
slant, key words, paragraphing, length, use of examples and facts,
descriptive level of the language--everything.
3. Transmit the code. Now write something based upon your analysis of what this template and your audience demands. Your goal is to produce a work product that represents the best writing in the genre for your given audience. Do not write anything that does not help you communicate clearly with your audience. There are no rules; the audience rules. That statement applies to everything about writing, from punctuation and word choice, to grammar and design.
Why the laser focus on a template and audience? Because the template holds the formula for delivering what the audience wants, needs, and expects. Good writers know their audiences better than they know their spouses. Seriously. You can have a successful marriage with far less spousal information than you need about your audience to have a successful business or technical document. Successful writing--especially business writing--is primarily an exercise in audience analysis.
What is an Audience?
audience is anyone who will listen to you or read what you have
written. Audiences are the receivers of communication and can be
specific individuals whom you know very well, people whom you know less
well, and even those you have never spoken to or met. But whether you
write for a specific or general audience, analyzing those who will be
the recipients of your
need for this analysis in writing is especially acute for two reasons.
First, because the audience is distant. A writer is not able to
interact with the audience as they are hearing the message and thus see
what is working or not, what is confusing or clear, what is accepted or
unaccepted. The second reason is that audiences of writing expect their
attention to be engaged
Audiences can be either simple or complex. A simple audience consists of your primary target and no one else. This primary target audience can be either a single person or a small group. A secondary audience, on the other hand, consists of those who may also read what you’ve written, although they were not the original or even the most important targets. When an audience consists of primary and secondary targets it is said to be a complex audience. Here’s the important point: An audience analysis should address the characteristics of both the primary and the secondary audiences. The two can sometimes vary greatly, and it is the writer’s responsibility to try to satisfy both.
Example: You are the manager of a 15-person department. You are writing to inform your employees that as of a certain date you wish them to fill out their time cards online. You offer them to ways to learn to do this: (1) work a self-paced online training module; or (2) enroll in a half-day tutorial class. In addition to the members of your department, you are copying your department secretary, the director of human resources and director of training.
The 15 employees are your primary audience. The secretary, HR director and training director are your secondary audience. Are there differences between the two? You betcha:
Only half of your employees are college educated. All in the secondary
audience have bachelor degrees or higher.
Implication: You will need to write the memo and instructions on the 8th or 9th-grade level.
Only 20% of your employees are computer literate. All in the secondary
audience are computer literate.
Implication: You will need to send a hard copy of this memo to your employees. Only the secondary audience should get it via electronic means.
Only 10% of your employees have any experience with online time cards.
The secondary audience may or may not use them.
Implication: You will need to define terms such as “online time card” in order to help both your audiences better understand.
A good place to begin your audience analysis is to start with these basic questions:
Who is the primary audience? Do I have a secondary audience? If so, who
you have those essential answers, you can begin to fill in the picture
with a host of other
Helpful LinksAudience Analysis for Technical Writers: http://www.io.com/~hcexres/textbook/aud.html
Audience Analysis for Speakers & Presenters: http://www.ljlseminars.com/audience.htm
Audience Analysis for Business Writers: http://writing.colostate.edu/guides/processes/audmod/