Audience Analysis Overview
In order to compose persuasive, user-centered communication, you should gather as much information as possible about the people reading your document. Your audience may consist of people who may have differing needs and expectations. In other words, you may have a complex audience in all the stages of your document's lifecycle—the development stage, the reading stage, and the action stage.
- Primary author (you)
- Secondary author (a technical expert within your organization)
- Secondary author (a budget expert within your organization)
- Gatekeeper (your supervisor)
- Primary audience (decision maker, primary point of contact, project lead, etc.)
- Secondary audience (technical expert within audience's organization)
- Shadow audience (others who may read your communication)
- Stakeholders (people who may read your communication, but more importantly, those who will be affected by the decisions based on the information you provide)
Keep in mind that documents may not go through a clear, three-step process. Instead, the lifecycle of your communication may consist of overlapping stages of evolution. User-centered writing calls for close cooperation between those who are composing the documents, those who will read and act upon the documents, and those who will be affected by the actions.
The Development Stage
A helpful way of gathering information about your readers is to conduct an audience analysis. Depending on the purpose and needs of your documents, you may perform a brief audience profile or an in-depth audience analysis (or something in between). You may expand or contract the following process to match your situation, but remember that the more you know about your potential readers, the more persuasive and user-centered your documents may be.
Some key questions (adapted from Johnson-Sheehan's Technical Communication Today) to ask about your readers are:
- Who are they?
- What do they need?
- Where will they be reading?
- When will they be reading?
- Why will they be reading?
- How will they be reading?
Meeting frequently (in person and/or virtually) with members of your audience to discuss their needs and expectations will also help you compose your documents. The following reader analysis chart (adapted from Johnson-Sheehan) is effective for investigating your audience:
How readers will use your documents is also important. This context analysis chart (adapted from Johnson-Sheehan) is effective for determining how your audience will use your documents:
In addition, determining where your audience sits in their organization may help you understand readers' specific needs. Drawing a chart of your communication's lifecycle will help you gather this information about your audience. The following graphic illustrates the development stage where you might be authoring a document with a team of people in your organization:
Reading and Action Stage
The following graphics illustrate the reading stage where your communication might be read by a number of people including your primary audience, secondary audience, and shadow readers:
The following graphic illustrates the action stage where your communication's information might lead to decisions, which in turn, can lead to action that influences the lives of your stakeholders. In a user-centered writing process, decision makers and stakeholders will provide feedback to help you further revise your communication:
Anderson, Paul V. Technical Communication: A Reader-Centered Approach. 6th ed. Boston: Thomson-Wadsworth, 2007.
Johnson-Sheehan, Richard. Technical Communication Today. New York: Pearson-Longman, 2005.