I think the most important thing I learned in this class is that I should be writing my work with an audience in mind. While I have had several classes focused on the user experience as someone on the website development and database management path, I’ve had very few writing classes. Those that I have taken were generally all about the content and analysis aspect of writing – I think the last time I even heard someone mention I should bother considering an audience at all was when I was writing college essays. However, this class has not only reminded me that writing deserves the same audience-focused approach as other aspects of website development, it’s also given me a framework in which to develop an understanding of who I’m writing for (often a difficult question to answer).
This is the way that this class has changed the way I approach my work. I no longer feel I am guessing about who my audience is but that, instead, I have a path to discovering my audience. The book gave a lot of really helpful advice through it’s ‘three step’ method to identifying readers. The first was to identify who the readers were – primary action takers, secondary advisors, tertiary evaluators, or gatekeepers/supervisors. However beyond just identifying the readers and their roles in relation to your documentation, the book also helped delineate that writers need to understand the needs, values, attitudes, and contexts of readers.
For example, the book’s second step is to identify the reader’s needs, values, and attitudes by determining their familiarity with the subject matter, professional experience, education/reading comprehension, skill level, and concerns. Writers are also meant to ask questions like: what information are my readers looking for? What are their pre-existing attitudes towards me, my company, and my subject matter? The last step is to identify the context in which a reader discovers your document – this has to do with the physical, economic, political, and ethical climate in which a reader experiences your writing. While step one felt intuitive, steps two and three were harder to grasp even though they were clearly critical to the way a reader interprets documentation.
Exercises like ‘Installing a Medical Waste Incinerator’ were the most helpful in demonstrating how to gain an understanding of one’s audience, and allowing me to put into practice the advice given in the book. To me, this is the most valuable thing I learned in the class that will change how I approach my work in the future.