In this 3-part series, we’ll discuss one approach to audience analysis for medical writing. It should be noted that there are many approaches for analyzing an audience, and it is important to find one that works best for you. However, audience analysis is often approached at an intuitive level without any explicit categorizations, which can make writing and editing more difficult than if the target groups for a given document have been clearly identified.
Identifying the players
Audience types in medical writing can vary as widely as the backgrounds of medical writers and editors themselves. Although it may seem obvious that a community newsletter should include different information than the Methods section of a journal article, formal audience analysis can enhance the effectiveness of a document while reducing total workload.
Stakeholders, gatekeepers, and audiences
In any rhetorical analysis, the first step is to identify the stakeholders, gatekeepers, and audiences for a given document.
In most medical writing/editing, the stakeholders are our clients, but this is not always the case. Occasionally the stakeholder can be an employer, a department, or even ourselves.
Gatekeepers are individuals or groups that must approve a communication before it is presented to an audience. Many times, these gatekeepers are other editors. However, they can also be other types of administrative staff. For instance, for an NIH grant, the gatekeeper is usually the scientific review officer.
Finally, the audience is obviously the target for a document. The goal of effective writing or editing is always to maximize the impact to the target audience. However, it is important to note that gatekeepers act as intermediaries, and a given communication must pass through gatekeepers in order to access a target audience. In the above NIH grant example, the audience would be the scientific review group. Ultimately, a grant must appeal to a group of peers who may be reading dozens of documents a day for days on end, but before the grant can even reach them, it must first meet all of the organizational and scientific merit standards that the scientific review officer assesses.
After the gatekeepers and audience have been identified for a given document, you can tailor your writing to these groups. The easiest way to do this is to assess the goals and constraints that gatekeepers and audiences face.
There are many ways to approach the next stage of analysis, but one of the ways is to first assess the nature of your relationship with the gatekeeper and then assess the audience’s values. In the next part of this series, we’ll discuss one way to group gatekeepers into two broad categories.