Audience Analysis: Building Information About Your Readers

Brought to you by the Purdue Online Writing Lab (owl.english.purdue.edu)

By H. Allen Brizee and Kety A. Schmaling

“Audience Analysis: Building Information About Your Readers” discusses your

communication’s complex audience and provides key questions you can ask to determine

readers’ needs, values, and attitudes. This section also provides useful charts to help you with

your audience analysis.

Audience Analysis Overview

In order to compose persuasive, user-centered communication, you should gather as much

information as possible about the people reading your document. Your audience may consist of

different people who may have different needs and expectations. In other words, you may have a

complex audience in all the stages of your document’s lifecycle—the development stage, the

reading stage, and the action stage:

Development Stage

• Primary author (you)

• Secondary author (a technical expert within your organization)

• Secondary author (a budget expert within your organization)

• Gatekeeper (your supervisor)

Reading Stage

• Primary audience (decision maker, primary point of contact, project lead, etc.)

• Secondary audience (technical expert within audience’s organization)

• Shadow audience (others who may read your communication)

Action Stage

• Stakeholders (people who may read your communication, but more importantly, those who will be affected by the decisions based on the information you provide)

Keep in mind that documents may not go through a clear, three-step process. Instead, the

lifecycle of your communication may consist of overlapping stages of evolution. User-centered

writing calls for close cooperation between those who are composing the documents, those who

will read and act upon the documents, and those who will be affected by the actions.

Section 2: Development Stage

Audience Analysis

A helpful way of gathering information about your readers is to conduct an audience analysis.

Depending on the purpose and needs of your documents, you may perform a brief audience

profile or an in-depth audience analysis (or something in between). You may expand or contract

the following process to match your situation, but remember that the more you know about your

potential readers, the more persuasive and user-centered your documents may be.

Some key questions (adapted from Johnson-Sheehan’s Technical Communication Today) to ask

about your readers are:

• Who are they?

• What do they need?

• Where will they be reading?

• When will they be reading?

• Why will they be reading?

• How will they be reading?

Meeting frequently (in person and/or virtually) with members of your audience to discuss their

needs and expectations will also help you compose your documents. The following reader

analysis chart (adapted from Johnson-Sheehan) is effective for investigating your audience:

Readers

Needs

Values

Attitudes

Gatekeeper

Primary

Secondary

Shadow

How readers will use your documents is also important. This context analysis chart (adapted

from Johnson-Sheehan) is effective for determining how your audience will use your documents:

Physical Context

Economic Context

Political Context

Ethical Context

Primary Readers

Readers’ Company

Readers’ Industry

In addition, determining where your audience sits in their organization may help you understand

readers’ specific needs. Drawing a chart of your communication’s lifecycle will help you gather

this information about your audience. The following graphic illustrates the development stage

where you might be authoring a document with a team of people in your organization:

_____ Development Stage

Section 3: Reading and Action Stages

The following graphics illustrate the reading stage where your communication might be read by

a number of people including your primary audience, secondary audience, and shadow readers:

_____ Reading Stage (General)

_____ Reading Stage (Detailed)

The following graphic illustrates the action stage where your communication’s information

might lead to decisions, which in turn, can lead to action that influences the lives of your

stakeholders. In a user-centered writing process, decision makers and stakeholders will provide

feedback to help you further revise your communication:

_____ Action Stage

References Anderson, Paul V. Technical Communication: A Reader-Centered Approach. 6

th ed. Boston:

Thomson-Wadsworth, 2007.

Johnson-Sheehan, Richard. Technical Communication Today. New York: Pearson-Longman,

2005.