Understanding your audience is a key component to good technical writing but stepping into your clients’ shoes to do this can seem daunting. Luckily, you only need to ask yourself a few simple questions while writing to be headed in the right direction. These questions can guide your brainstorming and research sessions and in no time have you writing with your client in mind.
Get the Big Picture: What Motivates Your Audience?
Everyone’s actions are motivated by something; companies are comprised of people who have distinct motivations, just like you. Think about why you work where you work and why you do what you do. How can your answers apply to your audience?
Even if you already have a solid understanding of your client, try summarizing your client’s most important goals in a simple question. The answer tells you what the focus of your writing should be. For example, the question might be “How can we increase productivity with limited resources?” Discovering your clients’ motivations will give you an understanding of what they really want, and why they hired you in the first place – to accomplish their most important goals.
Take a Cue From Design Thinking: Who? What? When? Where? Why?
Design thinking, a common strategy in business, asks employees to fill out this simple sentence:
(Who) needs (what) so that (outcome)?
The who is your target audience, the what is the action that needs to be taken, and the outcome is the result that will be accomplished (otherwise known as the why). An example of this might be:
Supervisor Brenda needs an installation guide for her company’s latest software so that her co-workers can efficiently set up and begin using the software as soon as possible.
When thinking about the outcome, also ask yourself when and where you are going to accomplish this. For the above example, “when” might be by the end of the month. “Where” could be an on-site presentation of the manual. Filling out this simple sentence and asking yourself who, what, when, where, and why will lay the groundwork for your writing.
Get on the Same Page: What Are Your Assumptions About the Client? What Assumptions Do They Have About You and Your Role in the Project?
It is easy to assume that you are on the same page with your audience while working on a project together; however, assumptions can easily lead to miscommunication between you and your client. You might assume your purpose is to create an educational document, while the client expects you to create a persuasive document. The success of the project rides on mutual understanding, so be sure to ask yourself what your assumptions are about your role and what you think the client expects from you. You are there to help them, so anticipating and accurately understanding their needs is essential.
Smart Research: Some Great Information Hiding in Plain Sight
If you do not have enough information about the client to answer these questions, try poring over their company website. You can find plenty of valuable details about their purpose and direction, including their history, core values, products, and key services. Their website is a public statement of their intentions, their goals, and what they wish to accomplish for other people and companies. Reading it is a great way to step into their shoes.
Stepping into your client’s shoes will ensure that understanding your target audience is less overwhelming and help you to write with their purpose and needs in mind. With practice, asking these questions will become second nature and make you a more effective technical writer.