Attitude’means the expectations that a reader has ‘when he or she reads a document. Any audience will have at least two attitudes involved in the communication situation: (1) feelings about the message and the sender, and (2) expectations of form. You must accommodate your documents to meet both these expectations.

Feelings about Message and Sender.
In terms of feelings, the audience’s relationship to the writer and the message can be described as positively inclined, neutral, or negatively inclined. If the audience is positively inclined, a kind of shared community can be set. up rather easily. In such a situation, many of the. “small details” won’t make as much difference – the form that is chosen is not as important, and the document can be brief and informal. Words that have some emotional bias can be used without causing an adverse reaction. Much the same is true of an audience that is neutral. A writer who has to send a neutral audience a message about a meeting or the results of a meeting might choose a variety of forms  perhaps a memo, or just a brief note with the information on it. As long as the essential facts are present, the message will be communicated.  However, if the audience is negatively inclined, the writer cannot  shared community. The small details must be attended to carefully; things like spelling, format, and word choice become even more important than usual because negatively inclined readers may react to anything that Nets them vent their frustration or anger. Surprisingly, even such seemingly trivial documents as the announcement of a meeting can become a source of friction when the audience is negatively inclined.

Expectations of Form
Many audiences expect certain types of messages to have certain forms. For instance, a manager who wants a brief note to keep for handy reference may be irritated if he gets a long, detailed business letter. Or if an expert in electronics asks for information on a certain circuit, a prose discussion would be Inappropriate since it is customary to give that information by supplying-schematics and specifications. If an office manager has set up a form for reporting accidents, she will expect reports in that form. If she gets a different form, her attitude may change from neutral to negatively inclined. On the other hand, if she gets exactly the form that she specified, her attitude may easily turn from neutral to positively inclined. To be effective, you must provide the audience with a document in the form they expect.

Your audience affects the document you write. You must consider your audience in terms of the following: knowledge level, role in the situation, organizational distance, and attitude. Consider carefully your audience’s knowledge level. If your readers know the topic well, you mac use specialized term  and refer to concepts without explaining them. If they know little, you must use terms they know, define terms they don’t know, and use strategies such as comparisons to help them gain knowledge. Also consider the audiences’ role, or how they will act in the situation. Will they use the document to take physical action or to make a decision? In addition consider the distance of your audience within your organization. Audiences
can be above, below, or on the same level as you, as well as near or far. In most cases, you give orders to levels below you and recommendations to levels above you. our documents will be more informal.with near audiences, and more formal with fa Your audience’s attitude may be positive, neutral, or negative. A positive attitude allows you to be more informal in tone and format. A negative attitude demands careful attention to tone, format, and the reader’s needs.




1. In class, set up two role-playing situations. In each, let one person be the manager and two others employees in a department. In the first situation, the employees propose a change, and the manager is opposed to it. In the second, the employees propose a change, and the manager agrees but asks pointed questions because the vice-president disagrees. In each case, plan how to approach the manager, then role-play the situation. Suggestions for proposed changes include the following: switching to a four-day, ten-hour-perday week; starting an employee recreational free time; having a :awing to determine parking spaces instead of assigning spaces closest to the building to executives.

2. Review the directions for Exercise 1. In groups of three or four, agree upon a situation like those mentioned above. As a group write a memo requesting the change to a near audience. For the next class, each person bring a memo that requests the same change but addresses a far audience. As a group select the best individual’s memo and read it to the class.

3. Bring to class a piece of writing aimed at an expert or knowledgeable audience. In groups of three or four, rewrite the document for a less knowledgeable audience.

1. Interview one or two professionals in your field whose duties include writing.Ask a series of  to discover the kinds of audiences they write for. Write a.memo summarizing your findings. Your goal is to characterize the audiences for documents in your professional area. Here are some questions that you might find helpful: What are two or three common types of documents that you write? (pre iosals? sets of instructions? informational memos? letters?) Do your audiences usually know a lot or a little about the topic of the do  Are your audiences near or far from you within the organization? a love, at the same level, or below you? Do you ever write abou t the same topic to, different audiences? Do you ever write one document aimed at a multiple audience? Can you give specific instances of  of the above?

2. Interview one or two professionals in your field whose duties include writing. Ask a series of questions designed to reveal the way audiences affect their writing, Prepare a memo summarizing your findings, Your goal is to describe how professionals change their writing based on their audiences. Here are some questions you might ask: What two or three types of documents do you commonly write? Do you try to find out who your audience is before or as you write?  What questions do you ask about your audience before you write? Do you change your sentence construction, sentence length, or word choice based on your audience? If so, how? Do you ever ask someone in your intended audience to read an early draft of a document? Can you give examples of situations in which your awareness of your audience change~ your writing?

3. Write two different paragraphs about a topic that you know thoroughly in poor professional field. Write the first to a person with your level of knowledge. Write the second, to a person who knows Ii.tie about the topic. After you have completed these two paragraphs make notes on the writing decisions  you made to accommodate the knowledge level of each audience. Be prepared to discuss your notes with classmates on the day you hand in your paragraphs. Your topic may describe a concept, an evaluating method, a device, or a process. Here are some suggestions:

4. Form yourselves into groups of three or four. If possible, the people in each group should have the same major or professional interest. Decide upon a short process (4 to 10 steps) that you want to describe to others so that they can carry out the process. As a group, write the process description. For the next class period, bring to class a memo that deals with the same topic but is aimed at an audience who must decide whether or not to implement the process. Agree upon the most effective memo and read it to the class .



Organizational distance refers to the relative positions of the reader and the writer in the hierarchy of the institution. In this regard, the audience is located above, at the same level, or below – and either near or far away If the audience consists of people from several positions in the hierarchy, the audience is “multiple.” The organization .


Elements of Distance
The basic elements to consider in organizational distance are formality and power. Formality is the degree of impersonality in the document. The more formal, the more impersonal. Power is the author’s ability to give orders to the reader. Generally, if you write to someone close to you, who is also the only one receiving the message, you can be relatively informal. But as you move in any direction from your place in the hierarchy, even horizontally, you probably need to become more formal. In most organizations, authority flows downward. You can issue orders to those below you but not to those above you. You can recommend or remind, however, in either direction.

Adapting to the Audience’s Distance: Examples
The following examples illustrate how writers can deal with the same topic yet accommodate for the distance of the readers. While the examples have the same topic, they are different because their audiences are at different distances from them in the organization.

Multiple Audiences
Often your audience will include readers at many levels. Suppose you have to write a document for levels B, C and D. In this situation each person will read the document from his or her own perspective. Such documents are difficult to write because the audience includes readers with different roles and knowledge levels. In a proposal, for instance, one group of readers might need cost figures, another technical details of the project, and a third the implications for the plant’s workforce. If the group as a whole must decide whether or not to accept the proposal, an inefficient treatment of one person’s area of special interest could cause the proposal to be rejected. This multiple audience is the hardest to write for, but the situation ‘occurs frequently. For this type of audience, writers use two methods: general description and specific indication.

Choose a General Description To describe the topic in a general manner means to write non technically, so that a multiple audience will understand it. To understand this concept, refer again to the VCR examples on pp. 41-42. Suppose you had to send a memo about VCRs to an entire plant. You would be sending it to all levels of distance and knowledge. To be effective you would have to choose the longer, more formal document that assumes less knowledge. If you sent the other document, many people would not be able to understand it.




The term knowledge level means how much your intended audience knows about the subject matter of the document. The level ranges from layperson to expert. In technical writing, a lay audience is intelligent but uninformed about the topic, and an expert audience understands the topic’s basic facts and concepts. You must plan your document to accommodate your audience’s .knowledge level of the subject. If your audience knows very little about the topic, you write the document to increase their knowledge. If readers know a lot about the topic, you write the document to build on what they already know.

If you write a document about subatomic particles for a nuclear physicist, you do not need to define basic terms such as neutrino, one of the subatomic particles. However, if you write a document on the same topic  for a hotel manager, you will need to define neutrino and many other terms. But knowledge level is relative to the situation. If the topic is personnel regulations relating to hotel chains, the hotel manager becomes the expert and the physicist is the layperson.

Adapting to Your Audience’s Knowledge Level
Your audience’s knowledge level means their familiarity with the background, concepts, definitions, and terms of your topic. To accommodate your audience’s knowledge level, you choose terms the audience already knows, define new terms, explain concepts by using examples or comparisons, and provide background, often in the form of the history of the subject.

Adapting to Different Knowledge Levels: An Example
Suppose that at your workplace you had to describe videocassette recorders (VCRs) to potential users. But these users have two different knowledge levels: those who know very little about these machines, and those who ~ow a great deal. The following two examples illustrate the different strategies a writer uses to accommodate those knowledge levels .


To help a less knowledgeable audience understand VCRs, you write assuming they have little or no knowledge of how they work. You define any technical terms, such as Beta, VH5, standard play, or extended play. You explain concepts in common terms; for instance, you might say that “programming” is similar to setting an alarm clock that tells the machine when to wake up. You clearly indicate the start of each new section in the document by using transition words like “next” or “third” you might supply one or more visual aids, such as pictures of the machine or its controls.

First, we have videocassette recorders and videocassette players. A videocassette recorder (VCR) can record images from a source, usually a TV. A VCR can also play those images back, usually throJ;lgha TV.A videocassette player (VCP) will only play prerecorded video tapes. A player cannot record images on the tape from another source (that’s why it’s a player and not a recorder). If you want to record a program
from our closed circuit system, you will need a VCR. Do not check out a VCP if you want to record .Second, both VCRs arid VCPs have two sizes: Beta and VHS. The two ta pes are incompatible. You must match Beta  tape to Beta machines and VHS to VHS. You can no! play  the other. To tell what size tape you have, measure the length and width of the cassette. A VHS plastic cassette is 4 1/2″ x 7 1/2″; Beta is aboul3 1/2″ x 6″. We have two Beta and four VHS machines. Third, our tapes have different designations: 120 and L750. These numbers refer to the number of minutes the tape will record. VHS 120 tape will record 120 minutes of programs. A Beta L750 tape will record 90 minutes. . Fourth, tapes ar~recorded at different speeds. The VHS speeds are standard (SP), long (LP), and extended (EP). The equivalent Beta speeds are I, II, III. If you record a 120 tape at SP, it will record two hours (120 minutes) of images; LP allows a-120 tape to record four hours; EP allows six hours. The equivalent Beta times are 90, 180, and 270 minutes. Our VC-Rswill playa tape that is recorded at any of the three speeds. The VCPs.will only play VHS SP tapes. If the tape was recorded at LP or EP, the VCP will play it so fast that the image and sound will be jumbled.


For the audience who knows a lot about VCRs, you would provide less information about background, definitions, and concepts. For example, you could tell a knowledgeable audience not to use Beta tapes because all the machines are VHS. Since the audience understands that Beta tapes use different technologies, they know that one will not operate in the other kind of machine. You do not have to provide the basic details; just saying Beta and VHS is enough.


In any writing situation; your audience has a role: Like actors in a drama, they player part, using the document as a “script.” They perform actions after receiving the information in your document. Those who take the most active roles are users and decision makers. Users need a document that gives specific instructions for physically carrying out a process. Decision makers need documents that give them information they can use to come to an informed decision.

Elements in Role
An audience role consists of two elements: the audience’s need and the audience’s task. Need means why the reader is concerned with the content· of the document. Task means what the reader will do after reading the document. The writer adapts to the reader’s role by manipulating the document’s approach and format. Approach is the way the writer presents the material; format is the way the writer arranges it on the page. A good writer will change a document to accommodate different audience roles. The topic, and even the subtopics, may be similar, but the documents will be quite different because of the different roles of the intended audiences.

Adapting to the Audience’s Role: An Example
To help you understand the concept of audience role, let’s look at an industrial example.  a small company, manufactures rotary piston fillers. These machines fill bottles with fluids such as shampoo, cleanser, or;.even perfume. The fluid is placed in a large vat. When the bottles pass under the vat, a piston mechanism draws just enough fluid out of the  fill the bottle. Large versions of this machine can fill thousands of bottles in an hour. As the sales manager, you might have to write to two groups: operators of the machine and their department managers. In each case the subject  the machine  is the same, but the two resulting documents are quite different.

For the operator, whose role is to run the machine, your approach is to explain in detail the sequence of steps that make the piston filler fill the bottles. You would explain how to turn the machine on and off, how to increase or reduce fill speed, and how to adjust for different size bottles. You would also give troubleshooting instructions, for instance, what to do if a bottle jammed in the filler.

In this situation, the form of your document would be a manual, with brief introductions, lots of numbered how-to-do-it steps, photos or drawing  of important parts, and a table of contents to help the machine operator find the relevant information in a hurry. Here is a manual section (MRMlElgin 25) that tells an operator how to keep the machine from filling bottles unevenly. The role of the reader of this document is to take some fast action.


To the manager, you would write a completely different document, even though it might cover the same topics. Your approach is to explain the machine’s capabilities and to show how they might benefit her staff and budget. You might point out that the machine has a variable output that can be changed to meet the changing flow of orders in the plant; you might point out that the personnel on the floor can easily maintain it so no outside help is needed for routine maintenance. And you might explain that problems as jamming can be easily corrected. For the manager, the document’s format would be standard prose  (complete sentences), divided into sections consisting of explanatory paragraphs rather than numbered how-to-do-it steps. Instead of photos, you might use a line graph that shows the effect of the variable rate of production” o r a table that illustrates budget, cost, or savings.Here is.a paragraph from a s ales letter in which the writer wants to making. The topic is the same as that of the troubleshooting.

Switching Roles

Individuals can change their role. If they do, they need to interact with the  document .designed for that role. If for some reason the decision maker wanted to operate the filler, she would change her audience role. She would have to use the document that was meant for the operator of the machine. She would have to fit her role to the audience expectations written into that document.


Defining Audiences

Defining Audiences


Every piece of technical writing has an intended audience: the reader or readers of the document. Your audience will affect  your decisions, from organization and visual aids to sentence structure and word choice. If the audience consists of consumers who will assemble a tricycle, they need clear information about the parts and the sequence of  teps to follow, and they expect easy-to follow numbered steps. Since your goal is to generate the clearest document for your audience, you must consider their needs and expectations as you plan, write, and revise. In other words, you must write your document for a specific audience in a specific situation. If  the audience or the situation changes, you must change the document. This chapter’ will help you to make informed decisions about your audience as you write. You will learn to identify four basic characteristics of an audience: its knowledge level, its role in the situation, its organizational distance, and its attitude. This chapter explains these characteristics and shows you how writing changes to accommodate different audiences.