In Chapter 1 of Workplace
Communications, Searles provides an excellent list of questions that a
writer should answer about his or her audience. Those questions include
"Why do they need this information?"
and "What do they already know about the specific situation?"
Searles also breaks up
workplace communications into four broad categories: upward
communication--intended for those above you in the workplace hierarchy, lateral
communication--intended for those at your own level, downward
communication--intended for those below you in the hierarchy, and outward
communication--intended for those outside your workplace.
Both of these approaches provide ways for
writers to gauge who their audience is and to write a letter or memo or some
other type of document with that audience in mind--in terms of factors like
format, content, diction (word choice), and tone.
ANOTHER WAY TO LOOK AT
Here is one more approach to audience Searles notes that may add to your understanding. This
categorization is one that is used widely and combines concerns with what an
audience knows and that audience's relationship to the writer. Here, then,
is another way to look at audience types, including a couple of types in
addition to the ones Searles mentions:
substantial previous knowledge of the topic
Example: If you are using an e-mail
message to send a new idea to a colleague who has been working with you to
improve the communication system at your workplace, chances are that the
colleague knows a great deal about the project--what's been done so far, what
the goals are, etc. In that sense, your audience is an expert.
There's no need to cover the basics, just the new idea.
little or no previous knowledge of the topic
Example: If you are writing a letter
to a customer about a brand new service your company is offering, that
customer probably knows nothing about the service because it is new. In
this case, your audience is a layperson.
You'll need to be careful to explain even the most basic details about the new
decision-making power (perhaps even over the writer's career)
Example: You are writing a letter to
your supervisor recommending that he or she adopt the new sick leave policy
that you and your committee have hammered out. Since your supervisor
will make the final decision, he or she is an executive
audience. You'll want to provide enough information so that your
supervisor can make an informed decision. You'll also need to
demonstrate respect and tact, since this reader is above you in the workplace
hands-on operator of equipment or one involved in the execution of a technical
Example: If you are writing a set of
instructions to someone for operating a new piece of equipment, you are
writing to a technician.
combination of an expert and an executive
Example: If your supervisor from the
executive example (#3 above) happens to have worked with you on the project or
has dealt extensively with such policies before, then you have a complex
audience on your hands. Not only will you need to be informative and
respectful, but you better know your stuff and be careful not to waste space
on details with which your reader is already familiar.
Of course, any given audience probably
is a combination of one or more of the types listed above. The technician
may or may not be an expert on the type of machine for which you have written
instructions. Or your supervisor may, in fact, be a layperson, a reader
who has very little knowledge of your committee's work. It's also a short
step to realizing how these audience types and Searle's categories of
communication overlap. For instance, an executive reader would indicate
that you are involved in upward communication, a layperson might involve upward,
lateral, downward, or outside communication, and so on.
WRITING TO MORE THAN ONE
Here is one other issue to consider--a
distinction between primary and secondary
audiences. One of Searles's audience questions is "Am I
writing to one person or more than one?" Often, your reader won't be
a single individual and may even involve readers of more than one type.
Here are a couple of additional definitions:
1) Primary audience--the
reader(s) for whom your document is primarily intended
2) Secondary audience--other reader(s) who
may have reason to read part or all of your document.
Example: Your committee is nearing
the end of its work on the new pay schedule. As chair, you are putting
together a list of work completed and work remaining for your committee
members (your primary audience). As you are
working, your supervisor asks for a copy of that document. Your
committee members are experts and probably are below you in the workplace
hierarchy. Your supervisor (now a secondary reader),
not having worked on the committee, is a layperson and above you in the
hierarchy (an executive reader). What do you do here? You need to
address both audiences.
For instance, you know that you can't just
mention the "lateral move issue" (which your committee members know
all about) without offering at least a brief explanation (for your
supervisor)--probably no more than a simple sentence that clarifies the basics
for your supervisor without cluttering the list for your committee
members. Similarly, you might want to mention that the committee has
done a very good job in sorting through all of the issues related to the pay
schedule--not just as a compliment to them, but as a plug for them (and you)
to your boss. And while you certainly can mention to your committee
members that you still have quite a bit of work to do in the next couple of
weeks, you'll want to explain that claim positively for your boss, if
something like the following: "In light of the progress that we've made
so far, I'm confident that we can re-double our efforts in the next two weeks
to complete the important tasks that remain."
The important point that both Searles and I
are making is this: Know your audience. The more you know about them, the
better you can tailor the format, content, diction, and tone to meet their needs
and to reach them with your message.