Technical Writing Audience
It is vital that you do not waste your reader's time. It is also important that you do not waste your own time by explaining things that the reader already knows. The reader usually starts reading your document because there is a problem with the equipment or software. The reader must get the equipment or software working again quickly.
This module introduces the use of a typical reader or persona to help make writing more consistent. The best way to save your reader's time is to only tell them information that they do not already know. Always focus on the task the user wants to complete, and describe it simply and directly.
A reader is a person who will use your documents. A persona is a theoretical person who matches a typical example of the people who will use your documents.
How can you select the correct information if you do not know who you are writing for?
You do not need to do research yourself. The marketing department can tell you a lot about the customer. If there is no information then you can make some assumptions based on the type of document.
Questions to ask your marketing department
- What type of education does the reader have?
- An engineer will have a degree with some computer studies included
- A call center operator or shop employee may only have basic education to explain more basic concepts
- If the software is an upgrade then the reader has used a similar product before. Point out the differences between the two versions first. This may save the reader time
- Create a persona based on this research
- Write an introduction to a product for your persona
For the exercise
- A picture of a typical document user. You can cut out a photo from a trade magazine
- A product to write about
- A new page on Wiki or Confluence
Write "How to make coffee" in steps for a teenage relative with no experience
1. Take a vessel and pour in 3/4th cup of water.
2. Switch on the coffee maker and wait for about 30 seconds.
3. Put approx 1 tablespoon of sugar and stir.
4. Once the sugar is dissolved, add 1/4th cup of freshly prepared decoction. (If you don't have decoction prepared, you can use one table spoon of instant filter coffee powder.)
5. Wait for 30 seconds, turn off your coffee maker and enjoy the delicious coffee.
Write "How to make coffee" in steps for a 45 year old Aunt.
1. Determine the amount of coffee you wish to make.
2. Fill coffee maker with desired amount of water. (Fresh clean water will produce the best results).
3. The pot must be cleaned and warm.
4. Place coffee grounds or beans into filter (approx. 1 tsp per cup).
5. You are ready to brew.
Write "How to make coffee" in steps for a 28-year-old assistant.
For answers to the questions, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Create a persona. Make the Persona as close as possible to your real average reader. For the exercise you need:
- A picture of a typical document reader. You can cut out a photo from a trade magazine
- A product to write about
There are two basic questions:
- What information does your reader need?
- Where will they use this information? (in a call centre, in a shop, in an equipment room)
Hint for Exercise 1
Write "How to make coffee" in steps for a teenage relative. Perhaps some pictures of the items and locations would help.
End of Lesson Questions
- What influences the information that your reader needs?
- What is the difference in the amount of detail required in Exercises 2, 3, and 4?
- Do you have to give the same level of information to your Aunt as the teenager?
- Why do you have to give more details to the teenage relative?