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Audience and document analysis

Before you begin editing a document, try to find out as much as you can about the audience for the document and purpose of the document.

Some points to consider:

What type of document is it?

Some possibilities (add your own to the list):

  • Proposal
  • Procedure
  • Contract
  • Instructions
  • Progress report, annual report, other report
  • Submission
  • Presentation at meeting
  • News article
  • Newsletter
  • Letter
  • Book (covers a wide range of topics)
  • Memo
  • Advertisement or advertising brochure

Why was it written?

Some possibilities (add your own to the list):

  • To get new work or new customers
  • To persuade (covers a wide range of topics)
  • To say why you need the resources (people, money, etc) to do a job
  • To get the labour or materials you need at the right price (and be protected if you don’t get them)
  • To tell someone what to do or how to do it
  • To tell someone what you are doing and whether you are on schedule (or why not)
  • To inform (give people information they might want or need)
  • To entertain

Who are the audience?

Some possibilities (add your own to the list):

  • Your supervisor
  • Senior management in your company
  • Shareholders in your company
  • Customers (people who buy your goods or services)
  • Prospects (people to whom you might sell goods or services)
  • Users of your goods or services (not always the same as customers or buyers)
  • Suppliers (people who supply goods or services to you or your company)
  • General public (people who may have an interest in the topic, whatever it may be)
  • Legislators or government bureaucrats
  • Journalists

Why will they read this document?

Readers may be interested, hostile or indifferent about the document. Here are some reasons they might read it:

  • Someone told them they have to
  • Need to make decisions based on information in the document
  • Need instructions on how to use your product or services
  • General interest
  • Want to find something to criticise
  • Want to be entertained

What does the audience need to learn from this document?

Some possibilities:

  • How to do something
  • Whether they are eligible to do something, or qualify for something
  • The facts and expert opinions (interpretations of facts) they need to know to make a decision
  • What their rights, responsibilities and obligations are in respect to something
  • What’s happening in a particular subject area (general interest)

Under what conditions will the audience read this document?

For example, are the audience reading it:

  • In good light or poor?
  • Inside or outside?
  • While doing a task (for example, answering a customer enquiry or maintaining a piece of equipment)?

If it’s an online document, what equipment or software do they have that might influence how they read and what they can see in the document? For example:

  • A large high-resolution monitor?
  • A laptop computer with a small, poorly lit screen?
  • Connected to the internet using a modem, or connected using a high-speed line?

What level of education and English reading ability does the audience have?

Some questions to ask:

  • General educational level low, average or high?
  • Educational level (or knowledge level) in the subject matter: low, average or high?
  • English as second or third language? Poor, average or high English language skills?
  • English as first language? Poor, average or high English language skills?

If your audience is small, their knowledge levels may be similar. If your audience is large, you can expect a greater diversity.

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Last updated 20 September 2001