Writing For An Audience

Maybe you’ve heard of User Centered Design (UCD) before maybe you haven’t, but either way it’s an important tool for reaching a wider audience, an audience on a schedule, and/or an uneducated audience. Essentially UCD aims to make technical and complex articles easier for the user (or client) to understand, thus making communication much simpler and more efficient. More than anything using this type of writing style is meant to make technical jargon much easier to understand for the layperson. This is done through precise organization of the overall document, detailed indexes and glossaries, and simple sentence structures. Forget what your third grade teachers said about mixing up sentence complexities and structure, times have changed.

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This article is not meant to instruct you on the intricacies of User Centered Design, you can read that for yourself on Purdue’s OWL writing resource, but instead grant ideas on how to implement this technique into your technical business writings (with a few examples). Design of any lengthy document must include page numbers, section headings, an index, and a glossary (if the writing uses words not known by the average reader). These elements make scanning through a document significantly easier. Think of presenting a business proposal to a board of directors. Each member will lightly skim the entire document, but choose to focus on separate sections. Clear headings, with a detailed index, make it easier for them to zoom in on their particular information. The COO will not be as interested in the financials as the CFO. Usability.gov also has instructions on UCD basics that are written slightly differently and in a different context if necessary.

Potential Pitfalls

“Does this extreme focus on readability dumb down the audience?” Potentially.John Wood wrote an article for Core77 stating “it (UCD) ignores everything outside our myopic economic reality.” Here he’s saying that a huge mistake that commons from User Centered Design is a lack of quality information. This is where precision details come into play. Simplifying a sentence’s structure by placing the subject at the beginning and the object at the end can lead to the tendency to omit certain details because it just doesn’t fit or flow well. This is where we have to assume the reader is capable of separating out descriptive phrases and finer detailed points from the overall sentence. If important details just don’t quite fit in the sentence, but you want to make it easier to read, break the single sentence into two. The quality of content cannot be sacrificed for the user’s ability to read the document. It’s a fine line of intersection of readability and detail that produces a concise successful paper. In this sense it’s important to have two separate people read the paper if possible. One on the technical side, looking for missed details, and one involved person, trying to understand what they’re reading.

Possibility of Use

It’s entirely reasonable to think at this point, “what a fantastic idea to meld both ideas, but I’m on a timetable and just wouldn’t have the time to fix a lengthy technical paper for the average person’s benefit.” That’s valid. Honestly, it is… at least at the beginning of a career. As an individual moves up in a division more and more people are involved on projects. Reports to managers, consolidating peers work, reviewing others work, and other situations arise where communicating one person’s complex ideas to a non-technical person is required. Start this process at the beginning, by always thinking through a paper with an audience in mind. “Who will possibly read this?” and “Will they understand it?” are important questions to constantly consider. As you produce more and more pieces this will become faster and easier. Being able to concisely present an idea to a room of different people is an extremely valuable skill to have, regardless of the industry. Web Accessibility Initiative also has an index of user submitted notes for further assessment if you feel so inclined.

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5 thoughts on “Writing For An Audience

  1. You focused a lot on how you need to focus on the audience, which is the main point of user-centered design and if you do not use this type of writing you will not reach as wide of an audience. You need to use this type of writing to be effective in today’s business world and in any type of professional writing that you do, which is why i believe you focusing on how to present writing to the audience is a very good point.

  2. I agree that you have to keep the reader in mind while writing a paper. Focus on the main idea and how the reader can relate and find interest in the material being wrote about. Great ideas and focus throughout your blog post, and I think your writing does a great job of exemplifying user-centered design.

    -Aaron Berns

  3. I really like how you incorporated heading, a component of user-centered design, into this blog. It shows you weren’t just throwing all this information out onto the page, but also applying it within your writing as well. The application of user-centered design created a blog that was very effective. I also like how you mentioned “the quality of content can not be sacrificed for the user’s ability to read the document.” Sometimes when I am writing I notice I am trying to squeeze a whole lot of information into one sentence that may not fit or flow. During times like this, like you mentioned, I should realize that breaking the sentence into two can fix this problem entirely. Overall this was a great post!

  4. Hey Braden,
    I didn’t realize you were in this class until reading this post. First off I really like how you separated each section with headers, it is a nice touch to make it much more readable. I like how you touch on that using headings allows the reader to easily find what they want, and that the COO is not as interested in the financials as the CFO. I also like how you include potential pitfalls. It seems that often times people may dumb it down too much when trying to be concise. Great post!

  5. Hi, excellent post! I really enjoyed how you put the tips and tricks into practice by using headings and clearly separating your work. That often takes a good amount of forethought, but its so worth it to your readers. Also, I enjoyed how your purpose was very clearly stated, and better yet, what the purpose wasn’t. That way, if I was a reader looking for something more like the OWL article, I could stop reading and go find that. It shows that you respect your audience and that your article deserves to be read.

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