Editors doing audience analysis?

Subject: Editors doing audience analysis?
From: "Geoff Hart" <Geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Date: Tue, 28 Sep 1999 09:33:06 -0400

Christi Carew, continuing the thread on editing, wrote <<I think the
best editors are ones that have done writing at some point.>>

Plus those who have _been_ edited. It teaches you a lot about your
own blind spots, teaches you some empathy for those authors
you're editing, and takes you down a few notches whenever you're
getting too arrogant.

<<I don't see how an outside (contract) editor do audience
analysis. I could see a staff editor doing this and can see how this
fits into the definition of editor that I have. But I think this is usually
done by the writer. The editor might have input, but I would expect
writers to analyze the audience befor they start writing.>>

The independent editor won't do a formal audience analysis unless
asked to do so. More commonly, the editor will spend some time
obtaining information about the audience the writers are trying to
reach, and will then use this context to determine what kind of
editing is required. By kind of editing, I certainly don't mean "the
audience are idiots, so replace any words with more than 5 letters
or two syllables". It's more a question of learning the type of
materials the audience is familiar with (e.g., what kind of jargon
they understand) and what the conventions of discourse are for that
genre (e.g., the structure of a scientific manuscript is very different
from that of a user manual). Most editors specialize in one or a few
areas, and become sufficiently familiar with those areas to be
conversant with the type of language and style people in those
areas expect and can deal with.

<<I'm not sure how much editors could initially give toward user
task analysis.>>

One thing that a good editor can do is place himself or herself in
the shoes of the user. That's awfully difficult for a really good
technical writer to do, because the more you become immersed in
a product, the more expert you become and the greater the
distance you place between yourself and the reader. (In fact, if
you're the one writer for a project involving multiple programmers,
it's not unreasonable to expect that you'll eventually end up
knowing the product better than any of the individual developers.) If
you're a technical writer who's aware of that phenomenon, you can
compensate for it; in the extreme case, that would involve doing a
full, formal audience analysis, but more commonly, it involves
taking a step backwards and consciously examining your own
assumptions. An outside editor arrives with none of this expertise
in the product, and thus with a much smaller distance between the
editor and the reader. That helps you identify gaps that must be

<<Alhtough correctness might be another issue. I would not expect
a contract editor to be able to review a doc for correctness.>>

That depends on what you mean by correctness. If you give the
editor access to the product being documented, and ask the editor
to do "fact checking", then the editor can certainly run through the
manual and confirm that it matches the product. What the editor
can't do is determine whether the nitty gritty technical details are
correct (e.g., the serial number of the microprocessor being used);
that's the job of the peer reviewers who do technical checks.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca (Pointe-Claire, Quebec)
"Perhaps there is something deep and profound behind all those sevens, something just calling out for us to discover it. But I
that it is only a pernicious, Pythagorean coincidence." George Miller, "The Magical Number Seven" (1956)

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