Study Guide for ENGL210: Technical Writing

Unit 1: Audience Analysis

1a. Analyze an audience

  • Why is it important for writers to analyze their audience?
  • What aspects of your audience should you consider as you draft your message?
  • How should the demographic traits of your audience influence how you shape and deliver your message?
  • Name four types of audiences for technical documents.
  • Define scientific or technical jargon.

Who are you writing for? Analyzing your audience is an important first step to drafting and communicating a clear and effective message. Your presentation is clearer when you choose relevant information and when you understand and appeal to your audience in ways that ensure they can comprehend and act upon your message. Your content, tone, and style should reflect the relationship you have with them. For example, the letter you send your lawyer should look and sound different from the one you send your grandmother.

Create a streamlined message. What does your audience already know about the subject? You do not want to bore them with information they already know, or irrelevant content only you find interesting. Also, if your audience is unfamiliar with your topic, you probably need to provide more context so your presentation makes sense and they can make a decision or take action.

Audiences are more engaged if your message demonstrates you respect their time and intelligence and reflects their personal and professional interests and experiences. While you must be careful about making incorrect stereotypes, demographic traits, such as age, gender and education level, can help you decide what to include and predict how your audience will receive your message.

There are four types of audiences for technical documents:

  1. Experts know everything there is to know about the topic. They use and understand scientific or technical jargon, and acronyms related to the field. They typically circulate in academic, research, and government audiences and may have difficulty communicating to nonspecialists.
  2. Technicians put the ideas, designs, and theories of experts into practice. Since they build, operate, and repair products, they are familiar with, and may even write, technical manuals. They could be middle-management employees who write and draft policies and procedures.
  3. Executives make decisions and may have little technical knowledge about your topic. You do not want to overload them with too much technical information – they just need enough to make a sound decision.
  4. Nonspecialists may lack a breadth of technical knowledge and decision-making power, but they are curious about the subject-matter and would like to learn more.

To review, read Getting to Know Your Audience and Audience Analysis: Just Who Are These Guys?.

 

1b. Select appropriate tone, language, and format to reach a given audience

  • How do you choose appropriate words to create an appropriate tone for your audience?
  • How do the principles of design help you format your message?
  • What are the four purposes for professional communication?

To create an appropriate tone, think about the status of your audience. For example, if you are writing to your professor or supervisor, you may want to use a more formal, professional tone, with appropriate jargon and more complex sentences. However, if you are writing to an employee or colleague, you may use a more conversational tone, less complex language, and a more simple sentence structure.

There are six conventions when choosing appropriate words for your audience:

  1. Connotation: The meaning of the words you use should be clear and should not evoke any unintended meanings or emotions.
  2. Jargon: Experts expect to hear jargon, such as acronyms and technical terms, but nonspecialists do not. Make sure the jargon you use mirrors your audience's subject knowledge.
  3. Slang and idioms: Avoid using slang and idioms since they can be confusing to some readers, especially to non-native language speakers.
  4. Sub-categorization: Nouns and verbs should follow each other clearly.
  5. Selectional restrictions: Nouns should be clear, concrete, and specific.
  6. Confusing word pairs: Use the correct word in a word pair, such as homonyms (to, too and two, or their and there).

Formatting a message appropriately comes down to implementing principles of document design:

  • Contrast: Changes in font, color, and layout help readers focus on important information.
  • Repetition: Repeat colors, shapes, columns, headers, and callout boxes to help organize your message.
  • Alignment: Use columns and justification to balance the position of your text and images in the document.
  • Proximity: Group or chunk information that belongs together since it helps focus your message and reduce clutter.
  • Minimalism: Be brief and concise; do not overload your document with image-rich content since it will distract readers from the information you want to convey.
  • Visuals: Provide just enough visuals to emphasize important information and engage your audience.

Professional writing has four purposes:

  1. Valuing messages focus on building relationships with your audience, such as sending a thank you note.
  2. Consulting messages acknowledge that a change is imminent (such as to a policy or procedure) and request assistance adapting to the change.
  3. Informing messages teach or inform audiences about tasks, such as processes and policies.
  4. Directing messages are typically from a supervisor and direct a response from the audience.

To review, see Tutorial on Style in Professional Writing: Word Choice, Principles of Design, and Tutorial on Context in Professional Writing: Purpose.

 

1c. Determine effective content for a message

  • What factors determine the content of an effective message?
  • What rhetorical appeals can you use to support your content?

The greatest factors that determine the content of an effective message are what your audience knows and needs to know and your purpose for writing the message.

Writers use three rhetorical appeals to support the content of their message:

  • Pathos appeals to your audience's emotions. Use pathos to add energy and variety to your message, but do not use too much in your business communication; you want to keep your message brief and succinct. Some issues carry strong feelings, so do not overdo it. Keep in mind that generating too much anger, and making lengthy appeals to pity or sympathy, can offend your audience. Appeals to pathos are most effective during introductions and conclusions, but are useful throughout.

  • Logos appeals to your audience's sense of logic and reason. Use appeals to logos to make your argument more plausible and reasonable in a way that it holds up under scrutiny. Make sure you scrutinize the reliability and accuracy of any information you use.

  • Ethos appeals to your credibility and authority (or someone else's). In business communications, you want to develop a relationship with your readers based on trust. You can do this by appealing to your professional education and experience, personal experiences, and, in some cases, someone's character.

To review, see Tutorial on Context in Professional Writing: Purpose, Getting to Know Your AudienceAudience Analysis: Just Who Are These Guys?, and What to Think about When Writing for a Particular Audience.

 

Unit 1 Vocabulary

  • Alignment (formatting)
  • Audience
  • Connotation
  • Consulting message
  • Contrast (formatting)
  • Demographic traits
  • Directing message
  • Ethos
  • Executive audience
  • Expert audience
  • Idiom
  • Informing message
  • Jargon
  • Logos
  • Minimalism (formatting)
  • Nonspecialist audience
  • Pathos
  • Proximity (formatting)
  • Purpose (rhetoric)
  • Repetition (formatting)
  • Selectional restrictions
  • Slang
  • Sub-categorization
  • Technicians audience
  • Tone
  • Valuing message
  • Visuals (formatting)
  • Word Choice
  • Word Pairs