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.
Considering Your Stakeholders
A challenge that is unique to professional writing is that the writer is asked to be aware of the stakeholders in professional situations. In any given situation, a business can have any number of stakeholders who will be influenced by their decisions. It is for this reason that the communication and internal documents of a business should keep the stakeholders in mind.
Stakeholders and Audience
The stakeholders in professional writing are different from the audience in that stakeholders are not likely to be readers of a business’s documents, but will still be affected by the decisions they contain. Because stakeholders are implicitly affected by a business’s decisions, it’s important that professional documents are written with their consideration. Examples of stakeholders can include:
- Customers— Customers are the clear examples of stakeholders since while most of a business’s customers will not know its internal workings, a business’s decisions work either to a customer’s benefit or disadvantage.
- Shareholders— Because shareholders have shown interest in a company through investing, a shareholder’s financial gain is linked to the business they’ve invested in.
- Local residents—Even if they are not customers of a business, the residents surrounding a business’s location are affected by the business’s presence. For example, if a business opens or closes a location by a residential neighborhood.
- Employees of a company—The employees of a company can be stakeholders of the company they work in the case of policies and actions that affect them. This can include normal worker policies to employee layoffs.
Stakeholders and the Rhetorical Situation
The question of who are the stakeholders is both a practical and philosophical one because it requires one to think about both the ethical impact of an argument and the stance a writer must take. Three philosophical lenses that one can use to be aware of their stakeholders as they write are the Utilitarian Approach (Kant), The Rule- or Duty-based Approach (Deontological), and The Golden Rule.
- The Utilitarian Approach cites that ethical decisions should be made with consideration of all parties who will be affected by that decision. For instance, if a major chain shuts down a regional location, how will that affect the customers and the people who work at that location? Are there other people who could be impacted?
- The Rule-based Approach asks one to consider the rules in place when considering a moral dilemma. This can mean thinking about how stakeholders are affected by terms and conditions being ignored by a decision making individual. The deontological approach also asks us to consider what it would mean if all individuals ignored the terms and conditions of a situation.
- The Golden Rule requires one to “treat others as they would like to be treated.” It’s important for people who make business decisions to be considerate of others who are impacted by their decisions. Because businesses make decisions that affect individuals inside and outside the business means that an ethical decision maker will make decisions as if these decisions affected him or her to the same degree it affects others.
These three lenses can guide a writer who considers them in terms of the rhetorical situation. With what kinds of stakeholders will it be important for a rule-based approach to be used? Is there a type of stakeholder that should be considered through a Utilitarian lens? Each of these questions supposes a different purpose and stance even if their audiences were the same.
Writing With Stakeholders in Mind
Since stakeholders are different from the audience, but like the audience are individual who are a part of the rhetorical situation, a writer needs to understand how to write with both in mind. The questions such writers need to keep in mind are “who will read this?” and “who will be affected by this?” A good argument for a business will appeal to those who enact the policies of a business and those who are affected by the policy.
Considering Your Stakeholders Activity
Here, you can download the "Considering Your Stakeholders Activity" sheet, which was designed to accompany the resource found here.