Importance of Audience Involvement in Technical Writing

Communication is a process of transferring information from one person to another. More commonly, it is defined as "the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing, or signs". All forms of communication require a sender, a message, and an intended recipient (audience). Communication can be auditory such as speech, song and tone of voice; and nonverbal such as body language, sign language, paralanguage, touch, eye contact, through media, i.e., pictures, graphics and sound, and writing. Communicating through writing, speech and other media to a specific audience is a form technical communication. Technical writers fall into the category of people who communicate with the audience under this category. They explain related ideas to technical and non-technical audience. Technical writing itself is a form of formal writing used in diverse fields of communication, for example from computer hardware and software to aerospace industry, robotics, finance as well as biotechnology. It can be as simple as telling a costumer how to use TV remote control or as complicated as telling a programmer how to use a software library. Technical writers gather information from existing documentation and from subject matter experts (SME). They then translate the complex technical concepts and instructions into simpler language for their audience. A good technical writer needs strong language and teaching skills and must understand the many conventions of modern technical communications. They must understand their audience type and the goals of their audience. Audience analysis is necessary for technical writing. As mentioned before, audience is the most important part of a communication chain; it is to whom all the information is directed. As a writer, one should anticipate the needs and expectations of their audience in order to convey information or argue for a particular claim. There are various ways of categorizing an audience. For a student submitting an assignment, the teacher may be the audience; for a teacher, his students are the audience; for newscasters, the people watching the news are the audience; and for a technical writer, the person interested in that particular writing manual is the audience. Thus to convey a general idea to the audience, it is necessary to define and understand one’s audience.

According to Michel Muraski from Department of Journalism and Technical Communication of Colarado State University, there are three types of audience: “lay” audience, “managerial” audience, and “experts”. The “lay” audiences necessarily do not know about the concerned subject. They are just asking on the general instinct of human curiosity of knowing stuff around one’s own self. They only need some background information i.e. they expect more of definition and description, and the visuals and graphics attract them more. The “managerial” audience may or may not have more information on the subject matter than the “lay” audience but they are gathering information to make a decision about the subject. In this case, one should highlight any background information, facts, and statistics so that a decision could be made easily. The “experts” are the most demanding audience of all in terms of knowledge, presentation, and graphics or visuals. They already know a lot about the concerned subjects. So for them, document formats are often elaborate and technical, style and vocabulary may be specialized or technical, source citations are reliable and up-to-date, and documentation is accurate. One always writes for an audience, whether he/she realize it or not. Audience is a very generalized group of readers. Keeping the type of audience in mind while writing can help one make good decisions about what material to include, in what order to organize ideas, and how best to support an argument. For a general writer, say one, who writes a letter to someone, keeping the type of audience in mind is necessary. Suppose a person writes two letters: one to a grandmother and one to a best friend describing the first month at new college. Unless that person has an extremely cool grandma to whom that person would be very close, the two letters certainly will look very much different in terms of content, structure and even tone. The same is the case with a technical writer. A technical writer must understand the level of his/her audience’s knowledge, whether they know what the technical writer is trying to say. The same sentence that carries a strong message to one reader or listener might be meaningless with another. Suppose two types of readers are reading the following sentence: one are those who are reading theory while the others are the general public, “The reader’s linguistic schemata is as important as the reader’s prior knowledge of the content (‘content schemata’) and of rhetorical organization”.

This sentence is quite clear to students of reading theory, but probably unreadable for most people. This very sentence can also be put in this way: “You need to know how well your reader reads and what your reader already knows about the topic”. Obviously this sentence is understandable to every single person. It makes absolutely perfect sense. The other one also did; the only excuse for the first sentence is that every field has its own language (its jargon), and experts in that field are supposed to know that jargon. So if a person uses a language alien to a listener while communicating, he will surely have to define and explain certain terms before using them. And besides, it will affect the reader’s interest in the script. So from above example, one must need to take into account certain considerations about one’s audience. Things one should know about their audience: 1. What is their general reading level? 2. What is their knowledge of the subject? 3. What exactly is the audience’s purpose? As far as reading level is concerned, it should be the one which could be understood by majority of the readers, for example an eighth-grade reading level is chosen while writing a newspaper for general public. Most of the people reading the paper can understand language at a level higher than this but communicating at a low level is more preferable. If a writing is easy and clear, the audience is much more likely to read it and remember it. Next comes the knowledge of an audience about a particular subject. If they know about a certain subject, they will understand the topic real well and quite quickly. Otherwise, one would have to add some background information or define certain terms for readers unfamiliar with the topic. The last point to remember is the audience’s purpose as to why they are reading or listening to someone: whether they just want a background information or they really are interested, whether they wants to hear about it or someone from an advertising company is just publicizing something. If a person himself is interested in something and wants specific information on a subject, then he

would like a general quite detailed article about it. For example in the case of an electronic device, the writer would be required to produce a writing in which he would describe the function of that device, how it is operated, the negative and positive aspects of that device etc. However, if the person is merely writing for advertisement purposes only, he should directly get to the point right at the beginning. People in the outside world are far too busy to pay attention to advertisements so they need something that will catch their immediate attention. Also in the case of writing a circular or another information brochure, the writing should be as much brief and informative as possible. Once a case has been reported in which a boss called a department meeting; on the third page of the memo was mentioned something about some important changes in departmental procedures but it failed to affect many people. The employees did not read the memo all the way through and so a great number did not showed up for the meeting. In case of technical writers, their writings must be useful for the audience. The readers must be able to understand them and act on them without having to decode wordy and ambiguous prose. In good technical writing, use of jargon must be avoided so that it may present useful information that is clear and easy to understand for the intended audience. Use of unnecessary jargon makes a writing confusing and is a sign of poor technical writing. It fails to explain unavoidable technical terms that reader would not be expected to be familiar with. Engineers, scientists and other professionals may also serve as technical writers. They necessarily are not subject matter experts (SME) but know quite a lot about their field. They try to communicate with their audience on a level better known to both, the writer and the audience. A writer must omit any unnecessary information that the reader do not want to read about in a transcript. The article might be too pitchy for a reader from technical point of view i.e. it may be at a high or low technical level. It may be pitched at the wrong kind of audience like for “expert” audience rather “lay” audience if you are dealing with one. This happens most often when productdesign notes are passed off as instructions. Examples on the other hand, are a powerful way to connect with an audience. Even in noninstructional texts for example, while explaining a mere technical concept, examples attract a great deal of audience attention. However the examples must also be carefully chosen. Homespun examples may not be useful to experts; highly technical ones may totally miss the nonspecialist readers. Another important aspect that must be

taken into consideration is the organization of the information in a writing. Sometimes a script has all the necessary right information but has arranged it in the wrong way. Reading a transcript like this may make the reader to get lost. Audience involvement in a writing must be the sole purpose of a technical writer so that his idea may better may received and then adapted. Apart from reading level selection and defining one’s audience, it is necessary that the writer may have the potential of attracting more and more of the audience. The sole way to attract nontechnical audience is by using a good representation of data. The font style of the script, using small and bullet sentences, and paragraphing makes an article less ambiguous. Sentences must be clear and topic sentences for paragraphs can be introduced. Use of graphics is an important and easy way communication with the amateur audience. “Expert” audience on the other hand, is not easily bought just by these characteristics of a transcript. They need more of the specific information on the subject with strong arguments proving something is worth as is being described, along with these. A technical writer’s success, therefore, solely depends upon how the audience takes his/her point of view. So it must be considered first if the information passed on to a specific audience is really what it is asked for and whether it serves the purpose fully or not.