Big shoes to fill
The best written information is of no use if it isn’t what people need. It’s not enough to be accurate and clear. People need to find what they’re looking for easily.
Step one in any writing project, big or small, is to put yourself in the shoes of your readers. What do they know? What do they need? How will they look for it?
Audience analysis involves all of these questions and more. The goal is to spend so much time getting know what your audience needs, that you feel as if you can think like they do. Only then are you ready to start writing.
Where to begin
Too often people sit alone in their office imagining what their customers want to know. Colleagues also may not take the time to ask one another the simplest question: What do you need?
Before you decide on anything else, spend time getting to know the people who will read your writing. Ask questions, clarify, and explore. When the readers are colleagues, that is simple enough. With customers or the public at large, it may take more effort.
You can send out questionnaires, conduct phone interviews, talk to customer support and sales people, and send out writing samples asking for specific feedback. If you’re creating training, you can attend classes. If you’re writing instructions, you can attempt to complete the task or watch others doing it.
What to analyze
The audience analysis stage is every bit as creative as any other stage of plain language writing. The creativity comes in finding the best way to get inside the heads of your readers. This varies, depending on the project.
If your readers want to know how to do something, talk to the user groups and find out what tasks they need to complete. Then prioritize the tasks and look for interlinking. Make sure you include all types of users.
If your readers are looking for information, gather common questions. This may lead to organizing the information by topics, or you may decide that a list of Frequently Asked Questions would serve the readers better.
Often the way an expert approaches information is not the best way for others to learn it. If you’re writing course materials, you may need to do extra digging. You’ll want to explore what the readers already know, which subjects they find most challenging, and how they prefer to learn.
Don’t leave anyone out
With all of these methods, if you do your analysis well, you will discover diversity. After all, each of us is unique, and we need different things.
This may be the biggest reason why it is important to take time to analyze your audience. How often have you written something only to discover that it ignores or fails to help a specific group of people?
So, do the analysis first, and make informed choices about how to accommodate diversity.
If you do all of this well, you will gain clarity not only about who your readers are, but the purpose of the writing. By finding out what you need to achieve, you also discover how to measure the success of your efforts.
Audience analysis is an ongoing activity. The strongest focus is at the beginning of a writing project, but the questions need to be asked again, both during development and upon delivery.
Watch for more about how to check with your readers after the writing has begun in later blogs. In the meantime, if you have ideas about audience analysis, please share. Who are you writing for?
© Debbie Bateman 2021. Image purchased from Adobe Stock.
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