Why Analyze Your Audience?

Have you ever been assigned an essay and thought to yourself, “I’m just going to write what my professor wants to hear because she’s the only one who’s going to read this, and my only goal is to get a good grade.” I know I’m guilty of having thought this before!

audienceIn academia, audience analysis is the most forgotten step in the writing process. It’s easy to overlook because, in the end, your professor usually is the only audience member. However, writing in the real world will not be that simple. No matter where you work or what you do, writing will always be a part of the job! Whether you’re writing an article for a non-profit’s weekly newsletter, creating a Sunday bulletin for your church, drafting an email to the staff members you supervise, or preparing a major press release for a client of your public relations firm, all these writing situations have one thing in common: a unique audience. This is why audience analysis is an integral step in any writing process.

So why is analyzing your audience so important? As a public relations major, this is a question I often ask myself as I study how to better communicate, and it applies to other fields of study as well! The first reason you should analyze your audience is because it allows you to communicate effectively. To do so, you must pick the right topic and convey that topic with appropriate diction and word choice. This cannot be done without considering your audience. Take my first two examples from above: if you’re on staff with a non-profit organization that reaches out to single mothers struggling with unplanned pregnancies, your newsletter topic and the way you convey it will look much different than if you’re on staff with a church preparing an ad in the Sunday bulletin for a young mother’s Bible study. Familiarizing yourself with things such as age, marital status, education, financial status, and other attributes of your intended audience will significantly improve the way you communicate.

The second reason you should analyze your audience is to sharpen and focus your content. Knowing your audience allows you to include relevant information not only in the body of your work but also in your introduction and conclusion. Now, take my last example from above: when writing a press release, knowing your audience (a group often called gatekeepers, or journalists, in the PR world and target market in the marketing and business worlds) is extremely important when deciding what details are included in the first few paragraphs of the release. Without knowing who the audience is, what they are looking for, and which details they need most, I am unable to grab gatekeepers’ attention, which ultimately means that my press release gets no coverage and fails to communicate. While this example is specific to the PR field, it is always important to know your audience so that you can refine and polish the content of your writing!

Now that you know why you should analyze your audience, how do you analyze them? Well, by doing exactly what I just did: asking questions! Take the three following steps when asking questions to analyze your audience:

  1. Start broad. Ask yourself: what is known about the audience? This means asking simple questions such as what is the audience’s age range? What percentage of the audience is married? And what social class does the majority of the audience fall in?
  2. Relate your audience to your writing. Ask questions like how much does the audience already know about the topic? What does the audience need to know? What level of language and content will the audience be able to understand? The answers to these questions can often be found by asking: what is the audience’s general level of education? And what are their professions?
  3. Gauge the audience’s anticipated response to your writing. This includes questions such as what is the audience’s view on the topic? And will the audience agree, disagree, or remain neutral? Question the audiences’ general race/ethnicity, gender, social class, religion/values, lifestyle, and cultural background to answer these types of questions.

In any writing situation, these are just a few of the questions you can ask and attributes you can examine when attempting to get familiar with your audience. Analyzing your audience at the university level can be tricky and seem like a waste of time when only one person is likely to read your essay, but getting in the mindset of real-world writing and practicing analyzing a hypothetical audience will ultimately benefit you in whatever career path you choose!

Written by Meredith

For more information on audience analysis and other writing subjects, check out our Audience Analysis handout and the Quick Reference Flyers page of our website!

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