Editing should maximize the likelihood the purpose of the content creator’s message is achieved. If the content is supposed to inform, then the audience must be able to comprehend it. If the content is intended to direct, then the audience must comprehend it and also be willing and able to use it. This means editors must know the audience in order to recommend changes.
The best information about an audience comes from testing messages with representative people. Despite increasing the cost of developing content, testing can be done on a shoestring budget. To learn more about testing documents, you can begin with the guidelines on usability testing from the federal government’s plain language site. After testing, a knowledgeable and impartial editor often achieves more with testing feedback than the original content writer.
But editors often don’t have the authority to instigate audience testing. The videos below supplement what appears in Chapter 2 of Revising Professional Writing, 4th edition, a specific system for analyzing an audience without testing.
How sensitive is the audience to the content?
How much expertise does the audience have in the content?
There aren’t many posts here at Pros Write that don’t deal with audience. If you enter “audience” in the search field near the top of this page, you’ll get about 10 results.
Researchers interested in workplace document quality have recognized the limitations of text-focused definitions since at least 1989, when Karen Schriver published Evaluating text quality: The continuum from text-focused to reader-focused methods. (If you want to continue exploring research in this area, start with Dutch researchers like Leo Lentz, Henk Pander Maat, or Michael Steehouder.)
If you want to see the specific research supporting my guidance, there are countless possibilities. You might begin with the following sources.
Austin et al. (2009). Using framing theory to unite the field of injury and violence prevention and response: “Adding Power to Our Voices.” Social Marketing Quarterly,
Hersey & Blanchard (1988). Management of Organizational Behavior: Utilizing Human Resources. Prentice Hall.
Hofstede (2001). Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions, and Organizations Across Nations. Sage.