Appreciating Technical Communication Audiences

Types of Audiences

When preparing documents, it is important to remember potential audiences for your work. Awareness of the differences between Intended and Unintended audiences may impact how an author presents or includes information in a document, and may make a difference in the event of a legal issue concerning the document. Also, awareness of a complex audience will ensure that an author’s writing does not exclude any potential readers. You do not want to leave an important figure out if they need to be touched on.

Intended vs. Unintended Audience

Outdoor AudienceIntended audiences are best thought of as the people you are initially writing to. It is the audience for which your document is intended. Unintended audiences may be anyone that comes across your writing at any point in time. In a professional setting, its important to be mindful of the unintended audience of any written work. This includes any email, memos or proposals produced in the course of business. In addition to being a good rule of thumb, it is in your best interest legally to remain professional in every document you produce as these documents may be used as evidence in court against either the author or the business from which they originated. Some organizations prefer to use their own, unique jargon; others prefer that inter-organization communication remain informal. You will need to view samples of materials produced in your workplace to get a feel for the tone and language used in your environment.

Complex Audience

Writing for a complex audience is different from academic writing. In academia, there is a specific audience for most pieces of writing, generally an instructor, teaching assistant, or a fairly small group of peers. In a professional setting, you will often write for a complex audience of people with different backgrounds, specialties, and expectations. With that in mind, avoid using terminology that is too technical so you don’t unintentionally exclude portions of your audience. This can become increasingly difficult when writing for larger and more complex audiences.

Tailoring Employment Documents For a Specific Audience

When it comes to an employment document such as a résumé or a cover letter there is no such thing as “one size fits all”. Each document should be individually tailored to catch the attention of the employer to which the document(s) are being submitted. To do this effectively, it helps to research the company and the position. Some different ways that this can be done are:

  • TailorLooking at the job description – The job description usually gives a set of skills that will be required for the position. The skills outline what the employer is looking for, and therefore, what should be added into a resume. (One should never lie about applicable skills, but highlight and prioritize these skills among others).
  • Looking at the company website – Looking at the company’s website can help with understanding the company environment and values that may not be listed in a job description. This can be most beneficial when writing a cover letter, in which it is important to acknowledge the potential employer.

In addition to looking at the job description and company website, it is helpful to evaluate the type of job that you are applying for. If you are applying to a job in a design field, you would want to tailor your résumé to be more creative and avoid using any sort of generic template.

Depending on your level of experience, it can be beneficial to create a list of skills and job experience in a Word document. As mentioned above, different jobs typically look for a specific set of skills. To make it easier to tailor a business document to a potential employer, it can be easy to have a Word document of skills and job experiences listed. After you determine the specific job you’re applying for, copy and paste the appropriate skills into the document.

It is important to remember that in employment documents you are selling yourself. Each job will be slightly different, so it is crucial to tailor your résumé to the employer. Additionally, make sure it is not cluttered with information that the employer may find unnecessary.

What If I Don’t Have a Specific Audience?

Sometimes you are writing to a broad audience that includes mixed demographics. In that case, the rule of thumb is to write for the lowest common denominator.  This means you tailor your document so that the message is conveyed to most of the people in your audience which usually means simpler language, shorter sentences, and more of a reliance on visuals.  Think of web articles on newspaper sites.  The publishers of these materials know that people of different backgrounds, education levels, and reading levels will be reading their articles so the language is not overly complex, nor are the sentence structures.