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[Podcast Transcript]

Welcome to Screen Space, your podcast about creating usable, accessible, effective, and efficient web, blog, and digital media design for the everyday (and non-expert) designer. This is episode 21 of Screen Space “The Rhetorical Situation Part 1—Audience.” In this episode, I discuss the rhetorical situation in general and then focus on audience and how to analyze your audience. In the next episode, “Rhetorical Situation Part 2—Purpose and Context,” I cover the last two areas of the rhetorical situation. Finally in the third and fourth parts of this series I provide a full example of an analysis of the rhetorical situation.

I am your host, Dr. Jennifer L. Bowie. I conduct research and have taught in areas related to digital media, web, and blog design. Previously I mentioned being an assistant professor at GSU. However, this is no longer the case and I am currently looking for a job in usability, user-centered design, and/or social media. Stay tuned and I’ll provide details at the end of this podcast.

Before I get to talking about the rhetorical situation and audience, I’d like to welcome some of my newest audience members. Welcome to my new listeners from Hayneville, Alabama; Mansfield, Massachusetts; and Boise Idaho. Thanks for listening! Now, let’s get to the topic.

The Rhetorical Situation: Audience, Purpose, and Context

Audience, purpose, and context are three key considerations in rhetoric, technical communication, and really any sort of communications. Whenever I taught a writing class, I spent a lot of time focusing on these concepts and they were key considerations in my grading. Did the student consider their audience? The context? The purpose? If they did consider these three parts of the rhetorical situation, then they likely have at least a decent paper, website, blog, or whatever the medium.

In some ways audience, purpose, and context are a lot like the 6 Ws of journalism: who, what, when, where, how, and why. Except these are not Ws we are trying to answer explicitly in our writing to tell the news or story, these are Ws we consider in our writing and attempt to answer implicitly not explicitly. In journalism we try to explain who the news happened to, what happened, where it happened, when it happened, how it happened, and why it happened.

In other forms of writing and communication we want to think about this question in regard to not telling a story but making our point understandable. So the “who” becomes the audience—who are we writing to? The context involves many Ws: what, when, where, and how. What is the user’s context? When will they use it? Where will they use it? How will they use it? This leaves us with purpose and why. Why will they use it? Why do they need it? Why do we want them to think, feel, or do whatever it is we are trying to get them to think, feel, or do?

Audience, purpose, and context do go beyond the 6 Ws, so let’s explore each in more detail starting with audience here, and purpose and context in the next episode.

Audience

Audience is the most important of these three parts of the rhetorical situation. If you do not fully consider and write or design for the audience, it doesn’t matter your purpose or context. You were unsuccessful. If they can’t read it, don’t get it, or don’t care, your purpose has not been met, and context does not matter. I’ve talked about audience before, because it is such an important concept. For instance, in Screen Space 12: Usability & Usability Testing 101 Part 2—Selecting Users I talked a lot about figuring out who your users are—or your audience—for usability testing. You may want to go back and listen for more information. I also promised to do a future episode on persona developing, and you can still look forward to this and it will help you take this episode and episode 12 further.

Please note: I do use the terms “audience” and “users” pretty interchangeably in this blog and podcast. Audience is often used more for writing and users for technology and media use. Users is also, of course, a term used more in usability, user experience, and user-centered design, which is where I have focused much of my work. Often when people talk about audience it is a vaguer concept and usually users is a more concrete concept, often based in statistics and research. But the reverse of either can be equally true and I do not use one term to denote more or less concreteness.

The biggest difference in the term to me is use. Users are the actually people who use your text and/or media. Audience is the often larger group of people you are writing or designing your media for.  The audience will, or should, include users. The users will likely include people you did see in your audience. For example, for our photography blog example we used in the Usability and Usability Testing 101 series, one group of users were fans—middle aged, middle class people who came to the site wanting to purchase photos or find photography tips. In many ways this might be better described as an audience—a group of people we are designing and writing the blog for. We will, for example, write photography tips for these fans who are amateur photographers—keeping in mind their photography experience levels, their income levels, time commitments, lifestyle, and so on. Since they are busy with career and family, but have a bit of spending money we may suggest things that save time but cost money. Our actual users should include people from this group, but could include a lot of other people who come to our site. Maybe we have some college student amateur photographers who stop by and some teenagers who know their parents like the site and want to buy them a gift photo. We will only know about these other users who are outside of our audience profile if we have some way to obtaining data about our users. That might make a good later episode.

For clarity, I will try to use the terms “audience” and “users” here in very precise ways. I will use “audience” to mean the group of people who will read, listen, watch or otherwise use our media and who we are designing and writing this media for. So, “audience” is more of an ideal and goal in many ways. They are who we want to reach. I will use the term “users” to mean the people who actually use—whether it be read, listen, watch, or whatever—our media who may or may not be part of the audience.  Users are who we are actually reaching, and they may be who we want to reach and they may not be. If our users and audience differ much we should probably reexamine our purpose, context, and audience.

Whenever you are writing or designing media you need to think about who you are writing or designing for. Be as specific as possible, because the more specific you are the more you will be able to write to that audience. Often the first time I ask students in my classes who their audience is I get this very vague answer—such as “everyone.” This is unacceptable unless they are writing and designing a text in all the languages of the world, for those that are illiterate, and even for little babies who can understand very little and may see a report as a good thing to drool on. Sometimes they give me something a bit less vague, like Americans, but I bet you can see the problems with that. I will tell them that if it doesn’t take them at least a paragraph to describe their audience they have not thought about them enough. I suggest the same to you. Keep working on who your audience is until you can write a good paragraph if not more on them. You need to analyze your audience.

Audience Analysis

To analyze your audience, I recommend first thinking of the demographics of your audience. These include:

From this list, you should already have a good idea of who your audience is. You may also have begun to figure out ways to write or design for this audience just from determining their demographics. Next consider how they are using your text or media. Some of this overlaps with context, which we will cover in more detail later. Use Characteristics include

Demographics and use characteristics may point to multiple audiences. That is fine and very common. You are likely not writing or designing for a single audience. In fact, in technical communication we often talk about primary audiences and secondary audiences.  Primary audiences are the intentional audiences of your text or media—who you are directly writing and designing for. Secondary audiences are others who may influence the primary audience or are other people your text or media reaches. These may be people who need to approve your media, like a boss. They could be parents, if your primary audience is kids. Or your secondary audience may be other audiences your message is reaching that are just not in your primary audience. For example, these could be the college students and teens I mentioned above—not in your primary audience of middle aged users, but they still may be audience members. So, make sure you recognize all major audience groups and break them into your primary and secondary audiences.

I will link to a table you can fill out to help you analyze your audience in the transcript in both PDF and doc forms.

Now, you should have an excellent idea of who your audience is. The next step is often taking this and turning it in to user profiles and personas. I’ll cover this later this year. Instead, we’ll continue with the rhetorical situation and discus purpose and context in the next episode.

In conclusion, let’s review audience and audience analysis:

  • Audience, purpose, and context are key components of the rhetorical situation. Considering the journalist’s 6Ws can help—who is your audience? What, when, where answer context. Why responds to purpose.
  • Audience is the most important of the three key components of the rhetorical situation.
  • Audience and users overlap. Audience is who we want to reach and users are who we actually reach.
  • To analyze our audience we should consider:
    • Demographics: Age, sex, socioeconomic status and more.
    • Use characteristics: Such as motivations, goals, and tasks.

Thanks for joining me for Screen Space 21: The Rhetorical Situation Part 1—Audience. Please come back next week for Part 2—Purpose and Context and in two weeks for Part 3—An example. Later, I’ll start discussing typography in more detail.

As I mentioned in the intro to the podcast, I am looking for a job. As my loyal listeners may be able to guess, I am interested in a position in usability, user-centered design, and/or social media, or another academic position teaching these areas. My preference is in the Atlanta area or telecommuting, though I may consider locations somewhat nearby. If you are interested in my skills or know someone who is please contact me at jbowie@screenspace.org and check out my portfolio at www. screenspace.org/port.

Screen Space is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. So, feel to send a copy to your favorite members of your audience, but don’t change the podcast, do give me and Screen Space credit, and don’t make any money off of it.

As I mentioned in the intro to the podcast, I am looking for a job. As my loyal listeners may be able to guess, I am interested in a position in usability, user-centered design, and/or social media, or another academic position teaching these areas. My preference is in the Atlanta area or telecommuting, though I may consider locations somewhat nearby. If you are interested in my skills or know someone who is please contact me at jbowie@screenspace.org and check out my portfolio at www. screenspace.org/port.

If you have questions, comments, or thoughts on what you want me to cover please send me an email at jbowie@screenspace.org or check out the Screen Space blog—www.screenspace.org. You can also follow Screen_Space on Twitter for hints, tips, advice, news, and information on  designing websites, blogs, and other digital media texts. Also, check out the blog for a transcript of this podcast complete with links and resources. If you enjoyed this podcast, please put a review up on iTunes or tell your readers and listeners via your blog, podcast, Tweet, or the social media of your choice.

Have fun and design well!

Screen Space is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. So, feel to send a copy to your favorite members of your audience, but don’t change the podcast, do give me and Screen Space credit, and don’t make any money off of it.

Screen Space’s opening music today is “African Dance” by Apa Ya off of Headroom Project and the closing music is “Survival” by Beth Quist off of “Shall We Dance”. Both these selections are available from Magnatune.

Episode 21 Links and References:

Past Screen Spaces podcasts you may want to refer to:

Resources:
Audience Analysis Tables: PDF or doc

References:
Matthew W. Brault, “Review of Changes to the Measurement of Disability in the 2008 American Community Survey.” U.S. Census Bureau.  http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/disability/2008ACS_disability.pdf

Other links:
Magnatune: http://www.magnatune.com/

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2 Responses to “Screen Space 21: The Rhetorical Situation Part 1—Audience”

[...] will be more successful, effective, efficient, and usable. Audience is the most important of the three parts of the rhetorical situation. If you do not fully consider and write or design for the audience, it doesn’t matter your [...]

[...] 2—Purpose and Context.” In this episode, I review rhetorical situation, which I introduced in episode 21. I cover the remaining two key parts of the rhetorical situation, purpose, and context, to help you [...]

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