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As a technical writer, you rarely write in a vacuum. For whatever type of document you’re writing, there’s a Target audiences.

Depending on the order, the target audience can be very broad: everyone who buys a Harper’s Handy Home Widgetor it can be very specific: aerospace mold makers using a Alternative TRF-3 Tri-axel Fulminator. When you write, you must write to a defined target audience.

The easiest target audience to write about is the clearest and most defined. As the target audience becomes less specific, the technical writer’s job becomes more difficult.

General characteristics of a target audience

Each target audience shares common characteristics. Normally, your client knows what those characteristics are and gives them to you. In some rare cases, you may need to research your target audience to find out what makes you a target. Some common and shared characteristics are:

  • age
  • Gender
  • To lease
  • Occupation
  • Entry
  • Education
  • Interests

You will realize that these are the same characteristics that marketing companies take into account. However, for the technical writer, there are other features that may be even more important than these.

Specific characteristics of a target audience

When writing procedures, it is important that you understand what the target audience already knows about the topic. From there, you can decide what level you need to start at and how much information you need to provide.

In the case of a common appliance such as a toaster, you can tell from the manufacturer’s target market who the likely target audience is. If the product is going to be sold in the US in large department and appliance stores, you can safely assume that the people buying it already know what a toaster is, what it does, and how to use it. They know it’s an electrical appliance that needs to be plugged into a 110v outlet. If you’re like most toasters, you have a slot for each slice of bread and some kind of control that determines how well done the toast is. Obviously, you don’t spend a lot of time on these elements.

If the toaster has a setting to toast only one side of bagels and English muffins, you must ensure that the user is aware of this feature and how to use it. Not all toasters have settings for frozen waffles or cakes. This needs to be clearly explained.

What you are doing is deciding what the user already knows and what they will need to be taught. Of course, there are the standard ones. warnings Y Disclaimers which are usually written as if the user is five years old or a complete idiot.

At the other end of the scale is writing for a very narrow or specialized audience. Once again, the client must provide you with information. But whether or not that happens, it’s your job to discover the salient characteristics of your target audience. You need to ask:

  • Who will use the product?
  • Under what conditions?
  • What is the user’s expertise, training, and experience level?

Fortunately, that is usually easier the more specialized the target audience is.

If you are writing about an improved model of a test device, you can probably assume that the technician using it is already trained on the subject and has experience using the current device. Unless the operation is significantly different, the focus will be on how the new model is different from the old model.

Generally speaking…

The same standards apply regardless of the type of material you are writing. You will write a technical report or a brochure depending on who reads it. Only after you have a clear understanding of who your target audience is can you start planning your approach and developing content for any writing assignment.

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