Re: audience analysis resources

Subject: Re: audience analysis resources
From: Peter Neilson <neilson -at- windstream -dot- net>
To: Rob Hudson <caveatrob -at- gmail -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 02 Oct 2009 21:04:48 -0400

I'm probably gonna sound awfully stupid, but my method for audience
analysis has always been rather naive: ask them, or ask someone who
knows them.

For "beginner" audiences I usually test my document by presenting a very
early sample of it to an unsuspecting victim. I ask that a mini-review
happen right there as I watch. None of this "I'll get back to you," or
"I'll have to check with my boss about this," instead, please just look
at it now and tell me if you would be happy reading it. "I don't know
anything about this stuff," is not an excuse--it's supposed to be
written for those who don't know. But if the first couple of grafs don't
grab you, then it's no good.

Knowledgable audiences are more difficult to estimate, because they tend
to skim rather than read, and often "misunderestimate" their own
knowledge. I generally try to interview representative users, if they
can be found.

If I cannot meet with a representative from the audience, I'll use two
approaches. I'll check with my own manager and with marketing to see
what insight they can offer. And I'll talk to trustworthy friends and
relatives, assuming it's not a breach of confidentiality. My wife has a
degree in chemistry, and is a thus good detector of stuff that stinks.

Regardless, I try to retain my understanding that the measures of the
mind are not uniform, not reliable, and not always within our
preconceived dimensions. To be useful, an audience analysis must
describe the needs of the audience, and we should try to discover if our
initial estimate was on target. I try to test my document's assumptions
about the reader. I should probably test, and retest, then have others
run the test, discuss the results, and then test again. Marketing uses a
different approach: Run it up the flagpole and see if anybody salutes.

Perhaps no one's supposed to salute. I've occasionally come to the
realization that nobody will ever read the manual. The sooner I can find
that out, the less time I'll waste on audience analysis.

(My wife says, "If you do not have a good feel for the comprehension
level of the audience, you're better off writing for an audience that is
more naive, rather than more sophisticated.")

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audience analysis resources: From: Rob Hudson

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