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“Who is the audience for this project?” runs the risk of a smarty-pants response (“the user”). For a smart answer, take time to define and understand who is reading and using the information you develop. In this TC Dojo session, we’ll talk about audience analysis: what it is, ways to do it, and how it adds value to projects.

About the Visiting TC Dojo Expert

Chris Hester, is the founder of Red Desk Studio, an STC Fellow, and accredited CPTC trainer. She has delivered successful content strategy, training, and knowledge management projects to a variety of clients, including those in the advertising, construction management, entertainment, and healthcare industries.

She has been actively involved in the technical communication community as a volunteer and academic mentor, and has presented at events such as the STC Summit, TCUK Conference, The LavaCon Conference, and BigDesign.

Watch the Video

Recorded: June 2017

Transcript (Expand to View)

[00:00:01.430] - Liz Fraley 

Welcome to the TC Dojo from Single-Sourcing Solutions, the TC Dojo is a techcom community driven by you. Tell us what you want to learn. We choose the topics, you choose the topics, what am I saying? We find the experts. In the Dojo session today, we are lucky to have Chris Hester as our visiting Dojo Master, as principal of Red Desk Studio, Chris provides consulting and training in content strategy, content management, government, training and many other subjects. She's been active for STC at the international level, having been integral to the STC summit conference, organization and programs for several years. She's the instructor and instructor for the Certified Professional Technical Communicator Foundation Exam, prep class and did a STC summit just last month to strong reviews by the participants. Chris looks frequently to context. Context can identify challenges and to find solutions necessary to result in meaningful experiences between users, information and technology. It's been my fortune to get to know Chris over the last couple of years, and it's her approach that prompted me to invite her to speak on audience analysis.

[00:01:11.120] - Liz Fraley 

Happily, she agreed to be our visiting TC Dojo Master today. Chris wants you to save your questions until the end, so be sure to type them in when you think of them so you don't forget what you wanted to ask. Just use the question box and then go to meeting webinar panel. All right, Chris, are you ready? I'll pass it to you.

[00:01:33.860] - Chris Hester

I'm ready. 

[00:01:35.660] - Liz Fraley 

Show your screen and we're good to go.

[00:01:39.230] - Chris Hester

Oh, not that screen, that screen, all right. Can you see it now?

[00:01:47.120] - Liz Fraley 

 Looks great. 

[00:01:48.570] - Chris Hester

All right. Thank you and thank you for that wonderful introduction. I think I'm blushing a little. So, yes, today we're going to talk about Who Are You? I really want to know.  The topic is Audience Analysis, but first, who am I? I don't really feel the need to go over this Liz did such an awesome introduction. I do have my own business doing consulting on content strategy, marketing and research, tech writing, I've been involved in STC for quite a while and as Liz mentioned, I'm a certified professional technical communicator, accredited trainer. So today's topic is Audience Analysis. And what we're going to cover is what is it? Why do we do it? What are some ways to do it? And how does it add value to a project? 

[00:02:43.340] - Chris Hester

So what is Audience Analysis? Well, basically, it is the discovery task that helps us figure out who we are communicating with. In techcom, we talk about giving people the right information at the right time, in the right way. When we're asked to do a project, whether it's write a blog article, develop instructions, craft a presentation or develop some other form of content, one of the first questions we ask is who is this for? Know your audience is basically the first rule of technical communication and a solid analysis ensures the information we develop and deliver results with the audience saying this is exactly what I needed.

[00:03:25.160] - Chris Hester

So who is this audience? In the big picture, our audience is anyone we are communicating with. So what does that mean? Who we communicate with is a pretty big list. Our first inclination is to think of users, especially for those of us who write system documentation, procedures and online help. But it's also our readers, some of us write white papers, articles, books, reports and reviews content that doesn't have users, but it's written to inform or persuade the reader. And then there are people who are simply in it for the learning. You know, some of us develop instructional materials or presentations our audience is made up of learners, whether we are developing e-learning, instructor led materials, doing the training ourselves or even doing conference presentations for those of us who develop presentations, whether we're doing it or we're developing a speech or presentation on behalf of somebody else, we have to consider the audience that's going to be viewing that slide deck and listening to the speaking material. Nobody wakes up and thinks hmm I'm going to go to a conference today. Conferences, seminars and trainings are intentional. People go there to learn and become informed, and then their employers expect to have takeaways, actionable material. 

[00:05:03.670] - Chris Hester

And then there are also Listeners consider podcasts, the best podcasters are the ones who think about their audience and who they are, their industries and what they want to learn and perhaps even the guests they want to learn from. And then my last example is even more personal, we tend to be aware of how we handle our conversations with coworkers and colleagues, whether you call it strategic or mindful, there's still a bit of audience analysis going on. How you talk to coworkers about a topic is likely very different than how you talk to a friend or family member about the same topic. 

[00:05:41.900] - Chris Hester

So why do we do it? Why do we need to know who we are communicating with? Why do we need to do Audience Analysis? Well, first and foremost, audience analysis helps us determine our audience goals. When we understand who our audience is, we are better equipped to create and deliver the information they need to make a decision, complete a task or take an action. We get to know our audience by asking a lot of questions and I mean a lot of questions. So the simple approach is to start with the 5 W's, I find myself going back to the basics more and more these days, and the 5 W's are pretty simple approach to getting any project started it's something that clients really understand. Who, what, when, where and why work well when you're just starting to get to know a project, but it also works well for audience analysis. In a pinch, you can use these five questions as a quick assessment, whether it's with a client, a subject matter expert, your manager, pretty much anyone to help you determine an initial audience for your project. Who am I communicating with? What is the desired outcome or goal? Why do they need the information? When do they need it and where do they need it? The nice thing is the 5 W's are scalable. You can take each one and look for as much detail as you need to.

[00:07:11.800] - Chris Hester

When you're looking at the who, you can start by diving into the primary audience and the secondary audience, that primary audience is that group of people who will be reading or using your content. These are your action takers. That secondary audience is the audience that advises the primary audience, such as their managers or their stakeholders. If you remember English composition classes from colleges or from college, you may even want to think about your tertiary audience and the gatekeepers, those words, you may have to think back long and hard on those audience levels, but tertiary audiences are the people who maybe have an interest in your content, even though you're not developing the content specifically for them. A good example of this is competitors. So let's say you develop user documentation and make it publicly available. The primary audience would be your customer, but the tertiary audience would be a competitor or even a media source who reviews your company's product, including the documentation. A gatekeeper audience would be your manager or even a legal rep who needs to review and approve the content before it's released. So when looking at the Who, you may also want to consider the audience backgrounds, what experience they have with the topic and any reading language or cultural barriers. When assessing the outcomes or goal, you can look at things like the audience's current knowledge and skill levels, you can also ask about any knowledge or skill gaps. What do they know and what do they need to know? What can they do or not do? What might you need to provide them with what challenges they might have in using, reading or accessing the content you provide? And what expectations do they have of the content?           

[00:09:17.960] - Chris Hester

So and then we talk about the why, why do they need the information values are the issues, goals or beliefs the audience feels are important, attitudes are the audience's emotional response to the project or even your company. This can be a big factor in how they feel or how motivated they are to use the content, attend a presentation, complete a task and so on, especially in an organization where ongoing change makes things feel unstable. What is your audience motivated by? What are they looking for or aiming to achieve and what are their needs? 

[00:10:02.860] - Chris Hester

So and then we can think about the When audience analysis is a great time to ask a lot of questions related to time, how quickly do they want the content?When do they need it? What is the project timeline going to be? Is it content that they need only once or are they going to need it, say, in content drips? Will it be delivered in a streaming fashion? How much content is needed? Is it going to be--how much time is available for the audience to use or read the content and how quickly do they need it? The timeline will help you determine what your-- the user's timeline will help you determine your development timeline. 

[00:10:56.940] - Chris Hester

And finally, location gives you the context in which they will be using the information, will they be at work, at home, in a doctor's office? Do you have readers that will be in an education setting and beyond where the physical location is? And what type of device and in what type of application will the content be? If this is a presentation or a class, where is it being held? Are you going to be in a training room or an auditorium? Is this going to be a webinar? Is it a presentation to a live audience or a virtual audience? Knowing this sort of infrastructure helps you to select an appropriate format and platform for delivery? 

[00:11:40.240] - Chris Hester

So now that we have an idea of all of the different types of information to look for, where or how can we do this audience analysis? So audience analysis is like a research project, we can do this research directly with potential audience members through surveys, which you can allow people to be anonymous or you can ask for their names. We can do interviews, we can do site visits and do observations and focus groups  any combination of this will work to, for example, a few months ago I went on a site visit to do observations and that included both user interviews and then I followed up with surveys.

[00:12:30.640] - Chris Hester 

Now, I've also been in situations where I haven't had access to users, and I know a lot of people say, you know, my boss won't let me talk to users, my client won't let me have access to users. In that case, you can go online and try doing some demographic research. You can try and magazine articles, their research databases, such as the US Census Bureau, the Pew Research Center, also public resources. I know I've got through my public library, I've got access to a lot of public databases. And you can also try analytic, such as Google Analytics and social media analytics for information such as geographic information, platforms, engagement, traffic, you know, interest, clicks, mentions, that sort of thing. You can also try, you just do your basic armchair analysis, which is just, you know, talking with friends or co-workers to collect anecdotes and experiences. I'd be wary of that you know, you might get some biases, but you'd be getting an idea at the very least of what your users or customers or readers would be looking for in terms of content.

[00:13:55.090] - Chris Hester

So depending on the information you want to collect and who you're talking to, you can use a Matrix. I love spreadsheets, I love Excel. So I would probably develop something like this to collect my information, try to develop you know, try to track who's a primary audience member, who's a secondary audience member, what their needs are, their background, what their knowledge level is. And then as I collect the information, the spreadsheet would make it easier to synthesize the data as I go along. So what is the value of this data as we collect it, what does it matter? Well, ultimately, the audience analysis gives us insight to support our decision making processes. And what exactly are these decisions? Well, our data is going to give us insight into our audience members. You know, as we collect the the information, we're going to be able to segment our audience into types. We can start making strategic guesses about our readers or our listeners. Are they new? Are they occasional? Do we have non-technical people versus technical folks? Are we working with staff versus management? Are we working with an internal audience versus external audience? How about customers versus stakeholders? Will we have just English speaking audience members versus a global audience members? The overall goal of our analysis is to help us see that our subject through our readers perspective or through our audience perspective, when we know who they are, we can make better decisions about the document.

[00:15:46.630] - Chris Hester

These decisions, our content decisions are going to be based around information architecture, our accessibility decisions, do we need to provide background information or reference information? How technical do we need to get if we have new users? Do we need to provide lots of examples and even tutorials? What is our delivery format going to be? And even it can come down to our design and our layout decisions. Our delivery decisions can be based on--our delivery decisions can include our tools and our platforms and even our project plans. I was involved in a project a little while ago where because of our audience, we decided to go with a Wiki. The client really wanted a Wiki the consultants on the team were really pushing a regular CMS, but because of the way they were delivering the content and they wanted the customers to be able to go in and modify the content, the wiki seemed the best approach. So that was just one of those situations where talking with the different customers, talking with the users, they really wanted the users to be able to maintain the content themselves. So in that case, the project plan was even affected by the user's ability to go in and maintain the content. So to summarize, audience analysis helps us figure out who we are communicating with, what their needs are, what their goals are, what their backgrounds are, the whole you know, end to end profile of the audience, it helps us understand their needs, their motivations, their goals, The methods for audience analysis range from the informal to the formal and ultimately, we gain insight that supports our decision making processes around content and delivery.

[00:17:56.150] - Chris Hester

And now I'll take questions if there are any. 

[00:18:01.120] - Liz Fraley 

All right, thanks, Chris. Well, you guys type in your questions this is your chance. Let me tell you what's coming up all right, coming up soon in two weeks is the next Mastermind Series for Technical Communications general topics. This group is a member driven discussion group monthly meeting where attendees present their specific challenges on topics on their mind in a confidential, supportive environment. Mastermind groups have been cited in Forbes as being extremely valuable. We have two going on right now for--one is everything techcomm, DITA to the specifics of cross referencing and the other is focused on products of Arbortext and windchill. We do have one also for independent business owners, but it's slightly different focus. it's a collaborative peer-to-peer environment where everyone lends their experience to each other. And it's been really amazing to participate in. You can sign up at the TC Dojo Website 

[00:19:04.820] - Liz Fraley 

Next month in the TC Dojo is Jackie Damrau. She's here to talk about Requirements Gathering. You asked for it and that's her passion. She'll be here next month to talk about how to write requirements. She does say non-agile, but actually there's not all that--sometimes that works and also she'll talk about both a little bit in her presentation and where do you sign up? You go to the TC Dojo website, scroll to the bottom and you'll see what's coming up the next bunch of months. We have, I think, through the end of the year scheduled, but not everybody's turned in their titles yet. All right. Thank you, Chris. Let's see if we have a few questions. 

[00:19:48.090] - Liz Fraley 

All right, We have one, do you have a couple of keys to successful interviewing? Do you find subjects have time want to talk? I'm guessing, is it hard to get people to talk? 

[00:20:05.710] - Chris Hester

Keys to successful interviewing and finding people who want to talk. On the last couple of interviews that I went on, it was a project that the customer was implementing and it was an application that was long overdue, so people were already very excited about it and so there was no need to sell them on the benefits. But with that in mind, asking people--how do I want to say this? When you're talking with people about, you know the--let's say you're selling, talking about user documentation and what do you need and what can we deliver and what would you use this for? People start to get nervous in terms of, wow, if you're bringing in an application that's going to replace me or it's going to automate what I do, they start getting nervous about their jobs. So it's almost like you need to frame it in,  know, if we can, you're helping us gather information that's going to help you do your job more effectively. We're not bringing in something to replace your work, you're actually helping us. So the way to get information out of people is to sell how they're helping you, not how you're helping them. 

[00:21:56.620] - Liz Fraley 

Excellent answer. Have you ever had a surprise when doing analysis? Found something you didn't expect? 

[00:22:09.830] - Chris Hester

Yes, the project where the client wanted their online help and wanted a content management system, and we were sure that and they wanted it structured help and structured writing and structured content and we were pretty sure we had sold them on, you know, an XML DITA type structure and at the very end, they know we wanted it all in a Wiki, and I mean, that's not necessarily Audience Analysis. I mean, it is and it isn't but based on their needs and the way they  provide content to their customers and their end users, they really wanted everything kept in a wiki because they convert, they sell the wiki, the content as part of their product and let people maintain it themselves.

[00:23:20.650] - Liz Fraley 

Interesting. I think we've all had that project going left when you didn't expect it to happen.

[00:23:29.330] - Chris Hester

Right, so after doing all of the initial content analysis, like the content audit and coming up with the information architecture and talking with a couple of customers and, you know, coming up with all the requirements and flushing everything out, coming up with a scope and a project plan, making a recommendation on a platform, they accepted all of it except the platform.

[00:23:57.870] - Liz Fraley 

All right. 

[00:23:59.260] - Chris Hester

So, yeah, that's a great one. 

[00:24:01.170] - Liz Fraley 

So here's the last one. What's a good sample size? 

[00:24:07.310] - Chris Hester

You know, I think it really depends on the project. I've talked to as few as five people for a project and there is many as 30. 

[00:24:19.390] - Liz Fraley 


[00:24:20.690] - Chris Hester

 So I think it really depends on the size of the project that you're doing. And if you feel you have gathered enough information that you feel comfortable with the decisions that you're making.

[00:24:32.750] - Liz Fraley 

Good answer. So here's one, so then how do you help ensure that the content is organized in an intelligent, structured way? This is your previous answer.

[00:24:45.200] - Chris Hester

I'm sorry.

[00:24:46.160] - Liz Fraley 

Sorry. Go ahead. 

[00:24:48.220] - Chris Hester

Oh, how do you make sure that the content is organized in a structured way? 

[00:24:55.220] - Liz Fraley 

Like, oh, yeah, sounds like your previous answer, which was we were talking about surprises and things like that. You're the last project?

[00:25:04.600] - Chris Hester

Then well, I think that's something that comes along later in the project when you start doing usability testing on your content.

[00:25:13.510] - Liz Fraley 

There's a follow-up

[00:25:15.060] - Chris Hester

With your audience sampling.

[00:25:16.690] - Liz Fraley 

 Particularly with Wiki, if you're using a wiki, how do you ensure content is organized in an intelligent structural way? Well, that's kind of a tricky one.

[00:25:28.150] - Chris Hester

OK, so with that, that is I'm going to stick with my first answer. 

[00:25:39.570] - Liz Fraley 

Yeah, I would say that is probably one of their priority

[00:25:41.970] - Chris Hester

 It comes down to, usability testing. 

[00:25:45.540] - Liz Fraley 


[00:25:46.660] - Chris Hester

 You know, we still did some initial card sorting and came up with an information architecture that made sense based on the product. And we developed a core structure based on product functionality and that's what we tested and had, or had reviewed and tested with initial customers. I mean, they'll still take it and modify it to what they think, but we still have a core product that has to be documented.

[00:26:18.910] - Liz Fraley 

OK, good answer. How many columns across is your typical audience metric go for you, i.e. how many personas as a general rule? 

[00:26:30.550] - Chris Hester

How many personas as a general rule that's going to--I've had anywhere from three to seven personas when I've done personas. 

[00:26:45.680] - Liz Fraley 

  1. Let's see if, it looks like...

[00:26:49.160] - Chris Hester

 I think anything more than five tends to be unwieldy, but I think on one project a few years ago, we had seven, our team had seven. 

[00:27:00.070] - Liz Fraley 

All right, awesome, good answers, good questions. All right, everybody, thanks for coming today. And Chris, thanks for such a great presentation you've got, you've made us all dangerous, at least if nothing else and we've got someplace to start.

[00:27:15.870] - Chris Hester

 Thanks. Well, it was a pleasure being with all of you today.

[00:27:26.920] - Liz Fraley 

 All right, everybody, thank you and we will--they said thank you, yay, this will get posted to YouTube sometime soon. Thanks for coming in and be sure to join us next month when we talk Requirements. Thanks, everyone.

[00:27:44.680] - Chris Hester 

Thank you.

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Key Concepts:

basics, usability and user experience

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TC Dojo, Webinars

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