Understanding the Audience When Writing Technical Instructions

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  • 0:01 Technical Writing
  • 0:41 Audience & Voice
  • 2:15 Reading Level & Expertise
  • 3:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

When writing technical instructions, it's important to first understand who your audience is. In this lesson, we'll examine how knowing your audience can help you improve your technical writing and make it more accessible.

Technical Writing

Frances has been hired by a company to write a user's manual for their new product, a camera flash that attaches to a smartphone, to make smartphone photos even better. They want her to write instructions on how to set up and use the flash.

The job Frances has been offered involves technical writing, or the composition of instructions for technical products. Technical writing can be difficult because, while the product is often very complicated, the instructions need to be simple enough for users to understand.

In order to help Frances figure out how to write the manual, let's look closer at how audience affects technical writing.

Audience & Voice

When Frances is talking to her best friend on the phone, she realizes that she talks very differently to her friend than she does to her grandmother. With her friend, Frances uses a lot of slang words, and maybe even says a curse word or two. But with her grandmother, Frances uses proper English and avoids slang and cursing.

Like tone of voice in a spoken conversation, voice in writing is the style and sound of the language used to convey ideas. For example, Frances can say that the flash 'illuminates the scene for clearer photographs,' or she can say that the flash 'lights up the room for dope photos.' These basically say the same thing, but in different voices.

The audience of a piece influences its voice. Just like when she compares talking to her best friend to talking to her grandmother, Frances will want to change the voice of her writing depending on the audience.

A good example of how audience can affect voice is in the formality of how things are expressed. Writing that the flash 'illuminates the scene' is much more formal than saying that it 'lights up the room,' even though they mean the same thing.

Some audiences will expect and prefer more formal writing, and some will expect more casual writing. For example, older audiences often prefer more formal writing than younger audiences. In other words, Frances' grandmother might prefer to hear that the flash will help her take 'clearer photographs,' while her best friend would prefer Frances to write that it will help her take 'dope photos.'

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