Re: Audience Awareness

Subject: Re: Audience Awareness
From: "Doug, Data Librarian at Ext 4225" <engstromdd -at- PHIBRED -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 23 Nov 1994 15:21:34 -0600

Dan writes, in defense:

...RoMay's post read:

>I constantly stress the importance of choosing vocabulary, content
>level, visuals, even type size, which best fit the needs of the
>particular audience

IMHO, each of these items fall into the category of deciding HOW to
write, not WHAT to write. If you read my original post, I added that:

>I do make certain assumptions, but they impact WHAT I'm explaining
>rather than HOW I explain it.

I suspect we may be talking past each other here, using slightly different
definitions of WHAT and HOW. (I straighten this sort of thing out for a
living; believe me, it happens all the time.)

To my mind, level of detail, choice of accompanying illustrations/charts,
vocalbulary and choice of format (checklist, book, etc.) are part of the
HOW. Choice of topics to cover constitute the WHAT. I admit my post was
not as clear as it might have been; hazards of using the 'net while
suffering from insomnia.

One of my key points was, that when writing for experienced people, you can
assume a certain level of knowledge. For example, you can assume that
experienced users of a program know how to perform common tasks; for them,
you can say "enter the timecard" and move on to the next step. For
newbies, you need to spell out how to access the module that accepts
timecard data and how to move to the next step. I count that as a
difference in HOW, not a difference in WHAT; YMMV.

...My own experience (a database of 1!) is that I am a better writer:

o The more I understand THE TOPIC - not the audience. I listen to
audience feedback so I can understand what TOPIC the audience needs.

Of course, the person who understands the topic *best* is the person who
wrote the compiler or built the engine or whatever. <pregnant pause>

o The more I learn how to explain TOPICS, regardless of the audience.

Here, I think, we come to the crux. As far as I'm concerned, there is no
"regardless of audience;" there are no rules that apply to every situation.
You cannot "explain things" in general, you can only explain them to a
specific group or groups and succeed or fail in the attempt.

If you've learned to write for your relatively small and homogenous group
of Ada programmers, you may not require much more work in audience analysis
until there's an influx of new people or your audience begins to stratify
in some way. Or you change jobs.

I MUST understand the topic before I can open my mouth (intelligibly ;-) ).

I agree wholeheartedly, but it's the ability to understand *both* what we
are writing about and who we are writing for that makes us communicators.


Doug "Women are designed for long,
ENGSTROMDD -at- phibred -dot- com miserable lives, whereas men are
designed for short, violent ones."
- Estelle Ramey

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