To create effective technical documentation, the writer must analyze three elements that comprise the rhetorical situation of a particular project: audience, purpose, and context. These are followed by document design, which determines what the reader sees.
Technical writers strive to simplify complex concepts or processes to maximize reader comprehension. The final goal of a particular document is to help readers find what they need, understand what they find, and use what they understand appropriately.[To reach this goal, technical writers must understand how their audiences use and read documentation. An audience analysis at the outset of a document project helps define what an audience for a particular document requires.
When analyzing an audience the technical writer typically asks:
- Who is the intended audience?
- What are their demographic characteristics?
- What is the audience’s role?
- How does the reader feel about the subject?
- How does the reader feel about the sender?
- What form does the reader expect?
- What is the audience’s task?
- What is the audience’s knowledge level?
- What factors influence the situation?
Accurate audience analysis provides a set of guidelines that shape document content, design and presentation (online help system, interactive website, manual, etc.), and tone and knowledge level.
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