Audience is one of the most important concepts in a situational analysis.  As a communicator, you need to have as much understanding of your audience as possible so you can determine the type and amount of content, structure, medium, language, and tone of the message that will best resonate with your readers or listeners.  There are many possible audiences for professional communications:

Is your audience internal (within your company) or external (such as clients, suppliers, customers, other stakeholders)? Are they lateral to you (at the same position or level), upstream from you (management), or downstream from you (employees, subordinates)? Who is the primary audience? Who are the secondary audiences? These questions, and others, help you understand your audience/s so that you can communicate effectively.

"Direction of Audiences" - radiating from a centre bubble with "you" in it, there are 4 bubbles: "Supervisor" (top), "Colleagues/team members" (right), "Subordinates" (below), and "Public, clients, suppliers, gov't" (left).

For example, according to Welch and Jackson, possible audiences in internal organizational communications might include:

  • “all employees
  • strategic management…CEOs, senior management teams
  • day-to-day management: supervisors, middle managers or line managers (directors, heads of departments, team leaders, division leaders, the CEO as line manager)
  • work teams (departments, divisions)
  • project teams”[1]

Keep in mind that your different audiences will also have specific purposes related to their roles. Consider what their purposes might be, and how you can best help them achieve their purpose. Considering what they are expected to do with the information you provide will help you craft your message effectively. Consider also that professional communications may have a long “life-span”—something you create now could be filed away and reviewed months or even years later.  If feasible, you may want to consider the needs of that audience as well.  The table below identifies some common purposes related to different audiences.

Audience Common Purpose
Executives Make decisions
Supervising Experts/Managers Advise decision makers
Technical Experts/Co-workers Implement decisions; advise
Lay People/Public/Clients Become informed; choose options; make decisions

When you plan a professional communication, always make sure to consider the following, important, communication variables that relate to audience:

  • Organizational Role: Is your message intended for your peers, employees whom you supervise, your direct boss, the head of the whole organization, all or a subset of the above?
  • Level of Knowledge: Is your audience knowledgeable about your topic, or will they need background information?
  • Known or Projected Perspectives: Based on past and current knowledge of your audience’s attitudes, beliefs, and/or values, how do you think they will react to your message?
  • Expectations: What does your audience logically expect from you, given the communication situation?
  • Age: Are your audience members young, old, or both? How can you gauge your content, language, and type of presentation to best relate to their experiences?
  • Culture: Does the corporate, regional, or national culture have certain established processes or expectations?
  • Size/Primary & Secondary Audiences: Is your audience limited to a certain group?  Is that group large or small?  Might your communication be disseminated more widely to additional individuals or groups? Primary readers are the persons who asked for the communication, or for whom the communication is intended. Secondary readers are those readers who may read only the sections of the report that relate to them, their jobs, their departments, responsibilities, etc.

View the videos below for more information about audience analysis.

You may also want to connect with the University of Pittsburgh, Department of Communication’s pages on Audience Analysis and Tips for Analyzing an Audience.

As you can see, getting a clear understanding of your audience is important in communicating effectively. It also enables you to imagine your audience as you write and revise. Keep asking yourself whether what you have said would be clear to your audience. How could you say it better?

Try It

Choose one of the topics below. Then perform an audience analysis, using the questions above to gain an understanding of the needs of different audiences. Try to profile your intended reader(s) and consider what sort of information they will need and why.

  1. You have been asked to write a report on Maintaining Internet Privacy for
    a) A new internet user who just signed up for internet service
    b) A start up e-commerce website developer
  2. You have been asked to prepare a document on Food-born Diseases for
    a) Restaurant workers (servers and kitchen staff)
    b) For a health inspector training course
  3. You have been asked to provide information on a proposed New Bus Shelter Design to
    a) Mayor’s office
    b) Contractor
    c) Newspaper reporter writing an article on the issue

Try It AGAIN: Task and audience analysis

The table below contains a collection of details about a research project you have just completed on rising sea levels. Imagine that you’re writing documents for each of the 5 following audiences:

image is a cartoon of a mouse teacher with a pointer explaining to young mice how a mouse trap works
  1. Your supervisor/boss
  2. Scientists
  3. The general public
  4. Politician
  5. High school students

What information about rising sea levels might each audience be interested in? Look at each category of information and write down which audiences you think would find this detail most relevant.  (You can use this CFP Audience Worksheet.)

Then consider what kind of document might contain that information for that audience.

Interested Audience Categories of Information on Sea Level Rise
The dollar damage caused by sea level increases each year.
A literature review of previous research on rising sea levels.
Descriptions of calibration procedures for your instruments.
Some basic physics of how tides and currents work.
How much your project costs.
A log of all your measurements during the whole project.
A list of people who worked on the project.
Specifications of a new instrument to measure water conditions.
A new result showing a connection between sea level and coastal developments.
Procedures you used to avoid statistical biases in your data.
Your plans for further measurements.
Your recommendations for future research.

[1] Welch, M., & Jackson, P. R. (2007). Rethinking internal communication: A stakeholder approach. Corporate Communications, 12(2), 177. doi: