Identify Your Audience
The audience of a technical document, or any piece of writing for that matter, is the intended or potential reader(s). For most technical writers, this is the most important consideration in planning, writing, and reviewing a document. As discussed in Chapter 1, you “adapt” your writing to meet the needs, interests, and background of the readers.
Types of Audiences
One of the first things to do when you analyze your audience is to identify its type(s). The common audience categories are as follows:
Experts: These are the people who know the theory or product inside and out. They designed it, tested it, and know everything about it. They usually have advanced degrees and operate in academic settings or in research and development.
Technicians: These are the people who build, operate, maintain, and repair the stuff that the experts design and theorize about. Theirs is a highly technical knowledge as well, but of a more practical nature.
Executives: These are the people who make business, economic, administrative, legal, governmental, and political decisions on the things that the experts and technicians work with. If it's a new product, they decide whether to produce and market it. If it's a new power technology, they decide whether or not it should be implemented. Executives are likely to have as little technical knowledge about the subject as nonspecialists.
Nonspecialists (lay audience): These readers have the least technical knowledge of all. Their interest may be as practical as those of the technicians, but in a different way. They may want to use the new product to accomplish their tasks, for example, or they may want to understand the new power technology enough to know whether to vote for or against it in the upcoming bond election.
It's important to determine to which of the four categories just discussed the potential readers of your document belong, but that's not the end of it. Audiences, regardless of category, must also be analyzed in terms of characteristics:
Background, knowledge, experience, and training
Needs and interests
Other demographic characteristics, such as age groups, type of residence, area of residence, gender, political preferences, and so on
Audience analysis can get complicated by at least two other factors:
More than one audience: You may find that your document is for more than one audience. For example, it may be seen by technical people (experts and technicians) and administrative people (executives). How you handle this will be dictated by your project, but one solution is to write each section strictly for the audience that would be interested in it, then use headings and section introductions to alert the reader to the intended audience for those areas.
Wide variability in an audience: When you have such an audience, you have the choice of writing for the expertise level of the majority of readers (at the sacrifice of the remaining minority that needs more help) or, of using the safer method of putting supplemental information in appendixes or inserting cross-reference suggestions to books or materials for beginners.
Writing to your audience may seem to have a lot to do with in-born talent, intuition, and even mystery, but there are some devices you can use to have a better chance of connecting with your readers. To make technical information more understandable for nonspecialist audiences, you need to make sure your writing includes easily understood steps and definitions of key terms. Also, stick to the facts. Include basic instructions, examples, and graphics, but omit theoretical discussions about the topic.