- Danny Mican
Target audience defines the intended reader of a writing. Technical writing is often dense and requires considerable background context, term definitions and research. This makes it inpractical to address everyone for every piece of writing. Target Audience is a tool that helps you limit the readership of a writing. Limiting readership creates a focused piece of writing. For example, the target audience of this writing is "people in tech, with intermediate or less writing ability, interested in improving the structure of their writing". The targe audience acts as an anchor for the writing and informs every decision made about the writing, required background context and flow of a piece of writing.
Target Audience the person, or group of people, who are the intended readers of a piece of technical writing. The target audience is the answer to the question: "Who is this writing for?". This writing is for ____ (insert target audience here).
Common Target Audiences
One of the most common ways to group target audience is based on "role". In a tech company common target audiences include:
- Anyone at the company
- External Customers
- Individual Contributors (Software Engineers)
- Line Managers (Middle Management)
- Product Managers
- Upper managment (director, VPs, etc)
Focusing on job role, or organizational structure makes it easier to group audiences and understand what motivates each audience. The following lists each role along with some topics that may be relevant to them:
- Anyone at the company: Company health, financial health, product annnouncments, org changes, funding, etc.
- External Customers: New features, tutorials, product announcments, incident post mortems, etc.
- Individual Contributors (Software Engineers): New tech, patterns, decisions, RFCs, post mortems, etc.
- Line Managers (Middle Management): Project status, hiring, initiative proposals, budgeting, etc.
- Product Managers: Usage, new features, interviews, roadmaps, etc.
- Upper managment (director, VPs, etc): Team capabilities, finances, roadmaps, statuses, etc.
- C-Level: Finance, features, company health, etc.
Audiences based on role, or domain, are easy to to define and understand. A good target audience for technical writing often lies between: "Everyone" and and a single specific person. A writing targeting a single person often takes the form of a direct message, text, or email. Even though a message may be targeted to a single person, it's still helpful to understand that persons roles, motiviations and background.
This section will cover how targe audience can be used to inform and refine the technical writing process. The rest of this section will use an example of informative technical tutorial for a SaaS database company. This company provides database as a service, allowing customers to spin up their own isolated database instance on demand (think of AWS RDS, or Mongo DB Atlas).
The company will publish a tutorial with the purpose to inform by providing an introduction to the product, focusing on a hands on engineer as the target audience.
Using Target Audience to Define Scope
The target audience is used to defined the scope of a piece of writing. Writing requires combining a seamingless infinite number of thoughts and words together. Scope uses the target audience to limit the focus of writing.
Consider the tutorial example. The scope of a tutorial may include content such as:
- Creating a database using the companies product.
- Querying the database.
- Destorying the database.
What the scope won't contain is how to build a database from scratch or how to start a hosted database company. Both of these topics are out of scope for the purpose and the target audience.
Using Target Audience to Align Writing
Aligning a piece of writing to an audience ensures that the writing provides sufficient background context. This allows the target audeince to gain the benefit outlined in the purpose of the writing.
Creating an account is a prerequiste to complete the tutorial. It's required that the audience has an account to complete the tutorial and receive the benefit. This means that the writing should provide information on how to create an account. Because account creation is out of scope of writing, it makes sense to link to a separate account creation tutorial. The important part is that creating an account is required context for the target audience and needs to be mentioned to achieve the purpose of the writing.
Using Target Audience to Anchor the Writing
Anchoring is a continous process which helps orient the content of the writing towards the target audience. Anchoring is a mental excercise to help understand what motivates the target audience and thereby understand how to write and structure content that is relevant for the target audience.
Common questions to help anchor a piece of writing to a target audience are:
- Is this relevant for the target audience?
- Would the target audience understand this?
- Does this help the target audience realize the goal?
- Would the target audience care about this?
Each thought in a technical writing should pass this anchoring test. Anchoring will cause significant overhead if you're new to technical writing. After a while it will become like second nature and require little explicit thought! Anchoring is a technique to ensure that your writing is both relevant, understandble and phrased in a way that your target audience understands!
As you get started on your writing journey, the concept of target audience may seem foreign. Anchoring statements and checking them against the target audience may feel like a lot of additional overhead on the writing process. As you practice and get experience with writing for target audiences, the process should begin to feel like second nature, you'll naturally settle on the level of abstraction required by the target audience. Going through the mental exercise of questioning if the target audience will find a piece of content valuable and understandable will also enable you to better understand what motivates the target audience, and allow you to empathize with the target audience easier.