Introduction to ReaderCentric Writing

Introduction to problems in writing for digital media. Introduction to ReaderCentric Writing

The Problem with Audience Analysis

February 1, 2017


Last year I had a heated argument with a colleague. We were designing publicity for our doctoral program, and he felt like I was dragging my feet. It involved the question of our audience. “Who are they?” His response was, “People who want PhDs”! Now, keep in mind that not only is he an English teacher, he is a writing teacher.

If you have ever been in a writing class, you know the teacher invariably insists, “You need to know the audience you are writing for.” This is actually, absolutely true, but their follow-up is often not useful to professional writers — as is this example.

“People who want PhDs,” is a set of people. Our audience will be a tiny, tiny subset of that set. It will only include people who want PhDs in technical writing, but even that small slice is too big. Texas Tech and the University of Washington doctoral programs are giants compared to us, and most anybody who is accepted at one of those schools (with appropriate funding) is likely to go to one of those schools. They compete with us, but we decidedly do not compete with them. What that means is the doctoral program needs to be a niche program, attracting a specialized following of people with interests not served at TT or UW. That specialized group of maybe 25 people in the whole world is the audience.

The problem with finding your audience is complicated and you need to be careful.

Let me give you the kind of example I gave my students through the years. Look at this camera.

 Photo of a Canon 5d mark III


Canon EOS 5DS R DSLR Camera (Body Only) 

The body, alone, costs $3600. The question is, “Who would buy this camera? Who is the audience for your copy?”

Writer Tend to Describe Audiences Superficially

Students and even most professional writers will say, “Professional photographer.” They are right, as far as that goes, but the answer doesn’t really provide any information. We hear that phrase, and we see in our mind’s eye all kinds of options . . . many of which will be altogether different. National Geographic uses completely different professional photographers from those who might work of Boeing or the newspaper.

“Professional Photographers” Come in Many Different Shapes but the Best Photographers Are Often Not Professional at all.

Here is the problem in a nutshell . . . This is one of the cameras of choice for the following photographers

Outdoor Photographers — They typically use wide- and ultra-wide angle lenses. They will often have the camera sitting on a tripod and may shoot exposures of two or three seconds. They need the largest possible CMOS chip with the best color. They need to shoot extreme depths of field (often from three feet to infinity) . . . AND more often than not, their interests are artistic and not professional.

Wildlife Photographers – They need a camera with a very fast shutter 1/8000 or better and use telephoto and super-telephoto lenses. They often focus on the eye of their target and may want very shallow depths of field. In effect, their needs are the exact opposite of each other. The one thing they have in common is they are usually not professional. More specific wildlife photographers (birders) are virtually never professional.

In short, the biggest body of users for this camera are not professional photographers.

Professional Photographers May or May Not have any Use for this Camera

Professional photographers, such as industrial or institutional photographers, may well not have any use for this camera. Because industrial photographers often shoot photos focused on larger things (e.g., construction equipment or buildings, industrial photographers may need medium format cameras such as Hasselblad or Pentax. Institutional photographers may use less expensive cameras to shoot events, award ceremonies, etc. Photos that are going to be posted in newsletters do not require National Geographic quality.

Sports and wedding photographers may use the camera much like wildlife Photographers

If you keep an eye on the sidelines of any football game, you will see photographers carrying cameras with large and long, white lenses. These lenses are often Canon lenses fixed on 5D Canon cameras like the one above or like the more expensive 1D. Like wildlife photographers, sports photographers use telephoto lenses and need exceptionally fast cameras. Although I mention football games above, and they are often outdoors, many athletic events occur inside in light that can be poor. Flashes are out of the question. Being able to shoot in relative darkness is critical.

Like sports photographers, wedding photographers usually need speed, but flashes are allowed. They shoot portrait style photos with the same camera they use for group shots.

In short:

Although “professional photographer” might seem the right answer to my original question, it should be clear that it is not. The majority of people who use the camera are not professional photographers. More important, however, is the fact that the needs of the people who DO use the camera are diverse. To market to the camera’s users, you need to keep in mind that there is not audience. Instead, there are a variety of different audiences, and you need to deal with each of them independently.

I have a chapter on audience analysis in the book, ReaderCentric Writing for Digital media. To access that excerpt and more comprehensive information, click here.


Introduction to ReaderCentric Writing

ReaderCentric Design is a New Response to User-Centric Design

August 19, 2016

Fundamental to ReaderCentric Design is the certanty that content on the Internet is made up of genres demanding a variety of different writing styles.

These writing styles include user-centric (the style most prescribed by usability gurus), persuasion-centric (typically long enough to convince the reader to do something, buy something, or think something new), and quality-centric (long but it engages readers and keeps them engaged), instruction-centric (long and educational) .

One of the important problems with the genres on the Internet is they can be sliced and diced until they are hardly recognizable, but being able to work with them demands we know what they are.

For more information about us, click here.