Project analysis for technical communicators

As our workplaces become increasingly global, we need to be aware of global issues and how to design documents appropriately for global audiences. Because every technical communication project supports readers, project analysis is a critical technical communication skill. 

 

At Firehead, we identify nine core competencies for technical communicators:

  • Project planning
  • Project analysis
  • Content development
  • Organisational design
  • Written communication
  • Visual communication
  • Reviewing and editing
  • Content management
  • Production and delivery

It’s important to solidly understand each of these competencies of technical communication. For project analysis, the goal is to understand what reader profiles are and how to create one.

Project analysis is a natural step after project planning because it gives you tools to learn about and really understand our readers in different types of audiences. 

 

Identifying reader and document contexts

To identify reader and document contexts, you need to identify who your readers are and their preferences for document use and reliability. This post will give you some ideas on how to methodically analyse your readers’ needs and provide appropriate content for their context and goals. 

 

Mapping information needs to your audience

Readers are raiders of information. Nobody reads technical documents for fun. Most users go to technical documents only when they need them. They read the document for specific information to make a decision or take an action and then move on to the next task.

Your readers need to be able to understand what you are telling them. You won’t be available to explain what your document means. This means you are responsible for knowing what approach to take to make it easy for the user. 

Readers prefer concise information; the shorter the better. Any extraneous content or material makes it harder to find the information they want. 

We live in a visual culture. Large blocks of chunky text can be intimidating, so readers prefer documents with useful graphics and effective page design. 

 

Identifying the four types of readers 

The first step in building a reader profile is to identify our readers. Then a reader analysis identifies readers’ needs, values, and attitudes. Finally, a context analysis identifies the context in which the readers use the documents.

This writer-centered analysis chart starts with the writer in the centre and builds outwards as we identify reader types. Using this approach, you can fill in the groups of readers who may be affected by or who may look over your work:

  1. Primary readers are action takers. They read our document and use the information to make a decision or accomplish a task.

  2. Secondary readers are advisors to the primary readers. These readers are usually experts in the field or have knowledge the primary readers need to make a decision.

  3. Tertiary readers are evaluators. They are readers who may have an interest in the document’s information. These readers include reporters, historians, auditors, and even your competitors.
  4. Gatekeepers are the readers who review and approve the documents. The most common gatekeeper is your manager or supervisor, although a lawyer or accountant might be a gatekeeper, depending on the type of document. 

 

Analysing the reader’s needs, values, and attitudes

To create a reader’s analysis chart, list your readers in the left column of a table with needs, values, and attitudes across the top. Now think about the information you already know about your readers. If you don’t know an answer, you can do some research or talk to your subject matter experts to complete each part of the table. 

The overall goal of the reader’s analysis chart is to view your subject through your reader’s perspective. The more you understand your readers, the better decisions you can make about the content organisation’s style and design. 

Start by thinking about things like how familiar your readers are with the subject, their experience and skill levels in the subject, their education levels, and their reading and comprehension levels. These considerations lead us to think more concisely about what they need, what they value, and their attitudes toward the content you are creating. 

 

Needs 

Needs should include the primary information the reader requires to make a decision or take action. For secondary readers, their needs could be the information they need to make a positive recommendation to the primary reader. 

 

Values

Consider what is most important to your readers. What do the readers value most? Could it be the environment, social causes, efficient processes, or accuracy? Depending on your readers, they might value reduced costs or increased revenue.

 

Attitudes

Use the following questions to think about your readers’ attitudes:

  • How do the readers’ feel about you or your company? 
  • What is the emotional response they have? 
  • What do they think about your project?

 

The reader’s analysis chart can help you identify the reader’s needs, values and attitudes towards the text, which allows you to write in a way that will make it more likely for you to get the results you need with your content.

 

Analysing your readers’ context

It’s not enough to identify who our readers are and what they need from our documents. We also need to understand the context in which they will use the documents. Your readers’ context is broken into four categories: physical, economic, political, and ethical context.

Similar to the reader’s analysis chart, the context analysis chart helps you better understand your audience.

 

Physical context

Physical context is often the first that comes to mind, such as where readers will be consuming the content. This might be an office, a workshop, a rally, or while waiting for the bus. Considerations include whether the area is well lit, indoors or outdoors, and a clean or dirty environment.

 

Economic context

It’s important to understand the economic context of our readers. The economic context includes anything that relates to financial factors, including personal costs, potential gain, business revenue and profits, along with the expenses.

Consider these questions when evaluating the economic context:

  • What economic factors will influence your readers’ decisions? 
  • What are the costs and benefits to what you are communicating? 
  • What are the financial situations before and after the audience accepts our information?

 

Political context

  • What are the political forces influencing both us and our readers? 

Readers are likely to have several political influences. Consider their micro-political levels of relationships between readers’ relationships with us, their supervisors, and their colleagues. In addition, think about your readers’ macro-political relationships that occur at local, regional, and national levels that can also shape their thinking.

 

Ethical context 

Ethical context helps us identify whether the document involves any social or environmental issues that might be of concern to the readers as well. This might be how a company change could affect their local community, the environment, or individuals within the company.

To create your context analysis chart, you will define the readers on the left with a column for each type of context. Enter what you know about each reader type and find additional information when you can find it.

With the reader’s and context analysis charts, you can circle or highlight the most important terms, concepts and phrases, and use these when making decisions about your content, organisation, design, and style for your document. 

 

Conclusion

These are some key ideas related to project analysis in technical communication, a core skill of the profession. All of the above skills are important. If you’re looking to up your game in technical communication, upskilling and filling in your gaps will lead you forward on your journey.

If you want to explore this in more depth, we have a course

 

 

download our free checklist to technical communications

At Firehead, we identify nine core competencies for technical communicators that form the bedrock skills of the profession. 

 

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