The audience means the intended or expected reader.

In advance of writing anything, some planning is required. Part of this process is knowing who will read the technical material. Here are some of the things we need to know about your audience:

  • What do they already know?
  • What is outside their sphere of knowledge?
  • How comfortable are they with technology in general?
  • How comfortable are they with your technology or product?
  • Why will they read the manual?
  • Will they read the manual cover-to-cover, or use it strictly for reference?
  • What level of education do they have?

These are a few important things you need to know about your audience.

The audience is not one person of course, nor is it a group of people with identical characteristics. The audience represents a range of people. Technical documentation must cater to that range.

For example, in advance of buying, various people who need to make a buying decision about your product may want to look at the manual. Like everything else about a product, a manual does serve a marketing function.

It is easy for people in the company that produce a product to assume that everyone knows what they know. This is often not true.

If, for example, your company sells test equipment, it may seem obvious that your clients will know as much about subtle parameters in their system as you do. This may be true, but as a manufacturer of test equipment, you may well know more about the characteristics that effect the performance of their equipment than they do. There are certain areas where you have probably studied in great detail than they have.

For this reason, a manual sometimes needs to do mare than just explain how to use your product. In some cases it needs to educate the client so that they can use your product to their best advantage. For example, the manual can explain why certain features have been included.

At the same time, a manual must not insult the intelligence of the typical reader. If a typical reader is an engineer, the manual must speak their language. Yes, the company president might read part of the manual as part of the buying process, and they might not be an engineer. They should be impressed by the level of organization and detail, and the quality of the writing in the manual. If they say “I understood more than I expected”, then that is usually considered a success.

The more the primary audience is comfortable with technology, the less general explanations are required. The more they know about your product, the less specific background material is required. There should be enough to make them feel comfortable, and enough so that they become comfortable with the technology, and know how to use it, given their background and education.

If a typical reader will read cover-to-cover, the manual must flow from section to section, each chapter building on the next. This is relatively rare for technical documentation.

If the typical reader will use the manual as a reference, then information must be easy to find, self-contained, and cross-referenced to related information.

Most technical manuals must fulfill both roles.

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