Adapting to Your Audience

Audience Analysis: Formal verses Informal

Don Zimmerman, Journalism and Technical Communication Department
One way to analyze an audience is what I call "informal" in its analysis techniques. The other way is a more "formal," structured approach that is not used a lot.

With the informal way, a whole series of things usually happens. As a professional works in the field, they grow an intuitive sense about what their target audiences are. In other words, it's like an engineer. They go to a conference, they read the journals, they start to know how to write for people or how to communicate about them or how to target that, without really doing it. In other words, it's life experiences with particular people that will give them that.

Other ways are by essentially reading and going through the publications they read. In other words, trade magazines. Some civil engineering news magazines are targeted for the practitioner in civil engineering. Those will give you a pretty good insight as to what's going on. A series of specialized civil engineering magazines deal with different aspects like earth moving news. There's a whole series of publications from the Institute of Concrete Development. Each of those are slightly different in what they want. Some of them are strong research journals and others are targeted to the day-to-day person who's operating in the field.

Writers can talk to other people in a company and say, "I'm doing this report for John Smith or Sally." How do they see the world on this? Especially a new person. Most organizations do pretty heavy copy edit in lots of cases. Part of it is, there's a corporate culture often about how you do things and how you say things that may or may not be articulated very well to a new person.

The more "formal" analysis techniques I like are things like writing focus groups and group techniques and surveys. One of the questions becomes, "What kinds of information do you need about the audience?" For me, in some ways, it's pretty simple. That is, "What is the primary purpose of this information?" "Is this information to inform them?" "Will that target audience be making a decision on that information?"

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