Impact Technical Publications Assess Needs


Target your needs!

The process of developing technical communications that cut costs and build sales starts with assessing needs. What goals do we want to accomplish and what audience must we reach to accomplish those goals?

The needs assessment is critical: it drives all decisions throughout the project.

Companies sometimes assume that they know the goals of technical communications, and they skip the needs assessment. This is a great way to decrease the value and increase the cost of technical communications.

What are our goals? Do we want to reduce training and support costs? Do we want to generate revenue from add-on products? Do we want to generate revenue by charging for a technical communication? Do we want to attract investors?

After we have identified our goals, the next step is to identify the audience we must reach to accomplish our goals. The users of the product are most likely part of our audience. Prospective customers may be an important part of our audience. Maybe venture capitalists are in our audience.

After identifying the members of our audience, we should analyze them. The audience analysis drives major content decisions such as what information to include, how to organize information, and how technical to make concepts and tasks. What education, training, experience, and skills do audience members have? What media are they likely to use? Do they have technical communication phobias?

Armed with our audience analysis, we are ready to develop strategies to achieve our goals. We should pay attention to audience problems such as difficulties understanding the subject matter, reluctance to consult technical communications, and so on. We should think of strategies that will help us overcome those problems. For example, a quick start guide or job aid may provide basic information to audience members who are reluctant to consult help systems and comprehensive user guides.

Until we have identified goals, audience, and strategies to achieve goals, we won't have the information we need to make cost-effective decisions about the best way to deliver knowledge about the product. Knowing our goals, audience, and strategies, we can make maximum use of our resources.

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