Information on Technical Communication

 Reader Analysis
 Definitions
 Descriptions
 Formal Report
 Analytical Report
 Typography Hints
 Instruction Basics
 Memo Format
 Oral Report
 Progress Reports
 Proposal
 Resumes
 Letter of Application
 Simple HTML
 Revising

Reader Analysis

In order to write a document that is effective for a reader, the first activity a technical communicator should undertake before developing a document of any kind is a reader analysis. The more a communicator knows about the reader of a document, the better the communicator can tailor the work to the reader's needs.

Reader Characteristics

A technical communicator should learn as much about the pertinent personal attributes of readers as possible. Readers' personal characteristics drive their interest in a document and their ability to understand it. Learning about readers can help a communicator determine the most effective means to deliver information to them.

A reader's educational background can be important. The more advanced the level of educational background a reader has, the more advanced the vocabulary and the more sophisticated the level of sentence structure a writer can use. Of course, even educationally sophisticated readers often need to access material quickly and easily, and when lack of time or low interest level is a factor, readers will likely not be motivated to spend time with material that is presented in complicated sentence structures and with advanced vocabulary. An effective technical communicator will analyze all these factors before developing a document.

A technical communicator should also find out what the target reader already knows about the subject of the document. The less a reader knows about the topic, the more detail a communicator will have to supply and the more framing information the communicator will need to use to introduce each area of information in a document.

Reader Attitude

Readers' attitudes toward the subject matter of a document, its creator, and the situation in which they receive and must use the document all contribute to their ability and willingness to access the information in it. These are all factors that an effective technical communicator will consider in planning document development.

When readers are unmotivated to read any document, regardless of subject matter, it becomes important to provide information in the most appealing way possible. A document creator may attract readers by using color or graphics, or simply by providing information in a clear, quickly accessible form.

When readers' work environments are hectic and chaotic, a document developer should provide material in the simplest, most visually and textually accessible means possible. Readers who are using documents within a busy office in which they face interruptions and other office tensions are not likely to set aside large blocks of time to carefully and quietly read materials. They are much more likely to read quickly, disjointedly, and only for the purpose of gathering information necessary to perform tasks. Unmotivated readers like these require documents that include bulleted lists of pertinent information, clear and highly descriptive headings to guide them through the text, white space to break up large blocks of text, and, where possible, graphics to relay information quickly.

Readers' perceptions of document developers, themselves also influence how they respond to documents. Readers who have positive feelings toward those responsible for producing the document are generally more highly motivated to read it. Document developers create positive perceptions by providing clear, accessible, and pertinent information on a regular basis. Readers' negative perceptions can also be overcome, in time, in the same way.

Document developers will also need to consider how they want their readers to perceive them when they plan their documents. Technical communicators will most likely want readers to perceive them as credible, thus, the information in their communications should be well supported by research and citations, but this does not necessarily preclude them from providing information in a fun or entertaining way as well. Document developers may want readers to perceive them as informal in some circumstances and formal in others, but the developer should note the intent and act purposefully in achieving it.

The Document Developer's Needs

Despite the need for reader-centeredness in document development, the underlying function of documents is to elicit responses that the document developer needs or wants. (Centering documents on readers' needs helps to meet the goals of the developer.) As technical communicators plan their documents, they need to have a clear view of what they want to achieve by producing the document. For instance, when communicators produce effective proposals, the end result is approval of the action, funding, or product development plan they proposed.

Communicators should also decide when and how they need the result that they're attempting to elicit from their readers and the document should be created to elicit responses accordingly.

Reader Receptivity

Technical communicators also need to determine how receptive readers are likely be to their requests or other document goals and develop documents accordingly.

If technical communicators request something from readers, they'll need to determine what would make them receptive to the request and establish the advantages to the reader of responding positively to the request. The best way to elicit the positive responses a communicator desires is to make clear why a reader's positive response is to his/her advantage and why it is feasible and economical to give a positive response.

Reader-centered Format

As with textual issues, document developers need to gauge which document format would be most appropriate for the readers they target. Communicators need to decide what kinds of visual and/or graphic elements would be most helpful to readers and determine the most effective style and tenor of visuals and graphics.

Informational Issues

Of course, most documents are created to provide information, although some seem to miss the mark by providing extraneous material while failing to answer readers' most pressing questions. Effective communicators create materials that convey information that readers must learn from the document. To accomplish this, developers decide how they can best inform their readers and follow suit.

Technical communicators also have a need to gather information from readers in response to their documents, so developers need to design their work keeping in mind what information they must learn from readers as well. They do this by creating a plan that reflects the most effective means to gather this important information.