What If You Have More Than One Audience?

Posted on: May 5, 2009

If you have more than one audience, there are several ways to handle this situation. Using a software user manual as our example, here are three:

One: Write a separate document for each audience. This is typically done when there are audiences with widely differing needs or abilities.

Example: Say you have two audiences for a software package, general users and system operators. Both may use the same software, but from completely different perspectives.

Two: Group the material for each of your audiences into separate parts of a single document. In this case, each audience has its own section in the document. In this scenario there is usually no audience overlap, so each section is devoted to a single audience.

Example: An updated product that will be used by novices and also by those who already have experience with previous models/releases of the product.

Example: One product may be used for many purposes or tasks. You might group material by task and thus, implicitly, by audience.

Three: Create an “audience guide” in matrix format, showing which audience should read which chapter or section. The guide could be combined with the table of contents, or precede it in a “How to Use This Document” section. In this situation there is definitely audience overlap, which means that sections or chapters are geared toward different sets of readers.

Example: An internal operations manual may need to address several departments. Staff in those departments will all need to read and use several of the chapters  in common. However, any number of chapters in the document are solely devoted to each department.

During one of my seminars on writing for users, I ended the discussion about defining and understanding your audience by saying: “Remember, it’s not enough just to build a better mousetrap. You have to …” and an attendee quickly interjected: “… know your mouse!”


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