Technical Writing ToolBox

A Blog on Technical Writing

What is Audience Analysis?

In order to publish an effective help documentation, you must gather as much information as you can about your audience. For most technical writers, audience analysis is the first, and perhaps the foundation step, in developing documentation for an end-user while following a documentation development life cycle (DDLC).

What is Audience Analysis?

In few words, audience analysis is to know more about your end-users.

Audience Analysis is the task to identify your target audience to make sure that the information provided in the end-user documentation is suitable for satisfying their information requirements.

Why should you conduct Audience Analysis?

Your audience consists of different people. Each person may have different needs and expectations. In order to satisfy the needs of majority of your audience, you must conduct an analysis to identify their varied requirement of information and develop your documentation for the common base.

Type of Audience

The Old school of thought categorized end-users into two broad groups: Beginners and Experts. Beginners know nothing about the product or the process you are going to write about and Experts know everything, inside-out, about the product.

William Horton in his book “Designing and Writing Online Documentation” further developed the idea and suggested five categories of end-users: Novoice, Occasional Users, Transfer Users, Experts, and Rote Users.

Using the word “AUDIENCE” as an acronym, we can define few questions that can shed light on our hidden audience:

Analysis– Analysis of the product features which are important from a user’s viewpoint. Not all features are important for users. As Pareto’s 80-20 rule suggests, 80% of the users use only 20% features of the product.

Understanding– What is the audience’s knowledge of the subject? Are they Novoice, Occasional Users, Transfer Users, Experts, or Rote Users of the product?

Demographics– What is their age, gender, and education background? Are they RF scientists or fresh college graduates?

Interest– Why are they reading your document? Do they want to learn everything about the product or are they interested in learning only about a small functionality of the product?

Environment– Where will this document be viewed?  Is it on the workshop floor (paper manual) or is it in a lab with electronic display (Online-help)?

Needs– What are the audience’s needs associated with your document topic? Do they want context sensitive help or a video tutorial about a complex operation of the product? Do they need document in their local language (Japanese, Chinese or German)?

Customization– Does the font size, type needs adjustment because of the small electronic display of the product? Do customer want paper manual in addition to the digital copy?

Expectations– What does the audience expect to learn from your document? Do they expect detailed information about the product or do they only want to get step-by-step instruction to perform a task?

I am interested to know more about the methods and tools you use to conduct audience analysis. Leave a comment and let me know.

Image Credit: sheelamohan / & winnond /


11 responses to “What is Audience Analysis?

  1. Pingback: 7 Useful Insights about How People Read Documentation « Technical Writing ToolBox

  2. Deepa September 30, 2012 at 5:28 am

    Wonderful! Just what I was looking for. Infact I guess most interviewers target this question and expect you to define how you would analyze the audience before you begin to write. Thanks for this wonderful write up.

  3. Nandini December 21, 2012 at 1:15 am

    Excellent work…if you could shed more light on examples in each case then , that would be marvellous…….

  4. Pingback: Top 10 reads for the Year 2012: 30,000 views from 129 countries « Technical Writing ToolBox

  5. Mike Pritchard April 1, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    This is a tremendously useful article, thank you.

  6. Andrea Jensen April 27, 2013 at 5:17 am

    Brilliant – thank you so much. I am about to create documentation for an ERP for a company that deals in large earthmoving equipment so my users range from Company Directors and Admin staff to Sales Reps and Workshop Technicians. This is a real challenge. I am thinking of using a clickable mind map that links to Wiki type answers but also refers to more detailed instruction and written documentation. And I might even send out an Audience survey using Survey Monkey to get some pre-training feedback. I hope it works. Andrea (New Zealand)

  7. Randy Fouse February 24, 2015 at 6:35 am

    Concise and clear – I guess that shows how good you are at this job. I would definitely like to have some more information on tools for audience analysis. Please send when you find the time.

  8. June 30, 2016 at 4:46 am

    Hi there, just wanted to tell you, I liked this post.
    It was practical. Keep on posting!

  9. Pingback: Audience Analysis – eLearning and Technical Writing

  10. Pingback: Entry # 4: Resources for Technical Writing – Technical Writing Insider

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