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Find your target audience – advice for technical writers

You are writing a manual for a new HR software application that is being deployed next week. So, you determine your target audience are the folks that work in the HR department. Done!

Seems really simple, right?  Well, maybe not. This question is a bit more complex than you may think. When you are working on a writing project, there are a few things you need to consider to find your target audience.

Finding your audience is the first and most important aspect of technical writing. Before you start planning, structuring your document, or writing anything, you must know who will read your documentation.

The first thing you want to do prior to embarking on a writing project such as the one described above is to create a questionnaire that will give you answers about your target audience.

The target audience analysis questionnaire

The questions below are the typical questions you would ask for a new or updated piece of technology, such as the new HR software in the example above.  Once you have answers to your questions, the following section explains how these answers will help you to construct your document for the widest possible audience.

  1. Who is using the technology? This answers who will be using the software (hint, it may not just be the HR department). Using the example above, HR software could include more than just information on current employees. It may include resumes of potential recruits, legal policies of the company with regards to employees, benefits, etc. So, you would have to expand the departments that will use the software to include recruiting and the legal department, not just HR.</p >
  2. What is your target audience’s profession(s)? This tells you specific professions (attorneys, human resources administrators, recruiters, managers, etc.) of those using the software.
  3. What procedures will each department use with the software? For example, if we are looking at HR software, are there procedures that will impact some of the data that is entered into the software? Data collected here should be used in your documentation.
  4. How familiar is the target audience with the technology? This answers whether or not your audience has used the software in the past, perhaps in another job, or if the system is brand new to them. Have they been trained on this software in the past? If so, to what level?
  5. What is your target audience’s technical background? This answers your audience’s level of proficiency and comfort with technology overall. Some people may be intimidated or anxious about a new software program, while some will be excited about new features coming their way.
  6. How will your target audience interact with the technology? This answers how your audience will use it. Maybe they use it once per week, a half hour a day. Maybe they will use it as their main software program and use it all day every day.
  7. What features of the technology are most important to your target audience? This question answers which features will be used the most. In most cases, you can usually follow the 80/20 rule (80% of the people will use 20% of the features).
  8. Does your audience have time to read? Do they like to read? This lets you know how big or small, how detailed the documentation should be, and if you should include additional documents, such as a quick reference guide.
  9. Who are the power users? Who are the key users? This lets you know who you can get more in-depth information from on the software and who is most experienced. This is helpful, especially if you are new to the technology. You can also find out if the key users have any additional requirements that need documenting, such as administrator functions.
  10. What does your target audience need to get out of the documentation? Your audience may want a document to train them on all features of the software, a user guide, or they may want a quick reference guide that focuses on just a few features.
  11. Does the documentation need to be translated into other languages? Perhaps you have an International presence and you are writing the documentation for target audiences in other countries.
  12. Are there any special accessibility considerations? This will let you know if you should do anything over and above Section 508 guidelines.
  13.  What is the preferred medium for your users to access documentation? Does your target audience prefer PDFs or perhaps an online manual? Will they be accessing the documentation from a tablet or a mobile phone? There are many choices to deliver documentation, so be sure to know what your audience prefers.


How to use all of this information to determine your target audience

So, what will you do with all of this information?

First, take the data and organize it in a manner so it can be analyzed, such as a spreadsheet or table.

With this data, you can make the following determinations about your documentation:

  • The features you need to include in the documentation
  • Whether you need a separate document for each user group or just one large document
  • The tool you need to use to write the documentation
  • Whether you’ll need a training manual, user guide, quick reference guide, or all three
  • The level to which you need to write
  • Whether or not you need to detail every feature or skip some feature that may not be used
  • Any special terminology or processes you need to include
  • The features that are most often used and may require more attention
  • Whether you need to make a special version of the documentation that focuses on accessibility

You will likely formulate additional questions while talking to those who will use the technology (be sure to add the questions to your questionnaire template for future reference). Also, this audience analysis focuses on software, however, there may be additional questions for other types of technology, such as a website.

I hope this was helpful to those of you who are new to writing or are just looking for more information. If you have other audience questions that you have found helpful, please share them here with us.


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Title image: 8 free no-strings attached graphics sites

8 free graphics sites – no-strings attached!

Sites with free graphics where you don’t have to pay or give up your personal information? Yes, they do exist!

So, have you ever been in search of the perfect free graphic for your blog post or website? You search Google and a whole host of great images are returned… score! But wait…. they aren’t really free. They are royalty “free” if you pay a monthly subscription fee. And you’ve just wasted 20 minutes clicking image after image to find out “free” doesn’t really mean free.

I could go on and on about various translations of the word “free,” but I think you get the idea. For the purposes of this article, the word free means just that – you do not need to give anyone anything in exchange for the use of high-quality images.

I found eight totally free graphics sites with stunning images to use as you please. Oh, and registration is not required to download these images in most cases. A few sites ask for attribution to the artist.

This is possible because graphics, photos, vectors, and videos that fall under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license means they are completely free to be used for any legal purpose however you wish. You can modify, use and post CC0 images with no worries about copyright infringement. Only in some cases do the authors ask for you to link back to them.

The following sites have thousands of CC0 images just waiting for you.


1. Pixabay

Pixabay has over 1 million beautiful photos, vectors, illustrations, and videos. This site is different from a lot of other free image sites because they offer more than photo images. Pixabay also has an app that supports iPhone and Android. This site has a robust search feature that allows you to search by media type, color, category, and size.


Collage of pictures from

The only time you need to register is if you want to download the high resolution version of their images. All other images (three sizes to choose from) do not require registration. If you do choose to register, you can save images you like or upload your own images and set up a portfolio to showcase your own work. This should be one of the first sites you visit on this list!


2. Pexels

Pexels is another great site that contains hundreds of free high quality photos. You do not need to register for this site and you can download as many images as you need. This site contains a search feature (such as searching by color) or you can search by popular categories. This is another one of my go-to sites for images.


Collage of coffee pictures from Pexels


3. Upsplash

Upsplash has hundreds of high-resolution photos. You can configure which images you want see when you visit the site and you can have photos delivered directly to your inbox. You do not have to register to download images, unless you want to use the site’s Collection feature, which allows you to create your own collection of photos.


4. has a large collection of high resolution photos to which they add hundreds more each week. Recently added photos are conveniently located on the front page for those of you who are frequent visitors to these sites. You can use the search feature to find photos or peruse collections by topic.


5. New York Public Library

NYPL has a very cool and very large collection of public domain images. You can try out the NYPL visualization tool or browse their digital assets by collection. I highly recommend checking out this site just for the fun of it.


NYPL Picture Collage


6. Skitterphoto

Skitterphoto has a large collection of beautiful photos. You can check out featured photos or use the search feature to find specific images. While this collection is a bit smaller than the others, the pictures are high quality.


7. Wikimedia Commons

Wikimedia has one of the largest multimedia collections I’ve seen and it includes audio and video files. This site is great for photographers as they have a monthly challenge for photo submissions. Searching the Wikimedia collection is easy, or you can just browse through one of their many collections. Some images require credit given to the creator (these rules are outlined on the site).

8. Vecteezy

Vecteezy is a site that focuses exclusively on vector graphics and has a large collection of flat design (or material design) graphics and icon sets. They also have a paid premium section of additional graphics. However, there are hundreds of free graphics to choose from if you don’t wish to sign up for a premium account. You can also edit some of the vector images right from the website (if you wish to go this route, you need to download the Chrome browser if you don’t have it). Graphics are organized by type of graphic and category which makes it easy to find the graphics you want. The featured image on this site is a free vector I downloaded and recolored with Illustrator.

I hope these sites help you to add interest and beauty to your own website or blog. I find them not only convenient to use, but great places to find high quality images for my own blog and projects.

Know of a great site that has free images? Please share it!


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Accessibility Picture

Section 508 deadlines loom – what does this mean for technical writers?


What is Section 508?

Section 508 revised standards

Section 508 and accessibility resources


Image of accessibility icons

What is Section 508?

If you are already familiar with the original Section 508 law, you can jump to Section 508 Revised Standards for information on updates that need to be in place by January 18, 2018.

Section 508 is an amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that requires federal agencies to ensure all information technology products that agencies produce and employ are accessible by people with disabilities. This law applies when federal agencies procure, develop, use, or maintain electronics and information technology. This means that under the Section 508 rule, federal government agencies must provide disabled employees and members of the public access to their information that is as usable as what is available to non-disabled persons.

Information Technology must be able to be used effectively by people with disabilities to be considered compliant.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 56.7 million (or 18.7% of) Americans have some type of disability. So, whether you are a federal agency or not, if everyone cannot access your information, you are excluding a large part of the population from reading what you write. It is our job as content creators to ensure everyone has access to the information we produce.

Since this law was enacted in 2001, you are likely following these guidelines already if you work with or for a federal agency or if you want to ensure your content is accessible. If you aren’t required to follow Section 508 rules but would like to become compliant, please see the Resources section at the bottom of this post.


Section 508 Revised Standards

Revisions to Section 508 apply to all forms of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) developed, procured, maintained, or utilized by federal agencies. Section 508 not only applies to hardware and software, but also to documentation and digital content, and there are some specific changes that you should be aware of if you are a technical writer.

Changes to the existing guidelines as they relate to documentation and digital content as per GSA’s Accessibility website are as follows:

  • Documentation for hardware and software products must include how to use accessibility and compatibility features integrated into these tools
  • Electronic documents must adhere to the same requirements as electronic content
  • Documentation must be made available in a non-electronic format upon request
  • Support services such as help desks, training services, call centers, and automated technical support must include information on access and compatibility features for customers with disabilities


Important 508 deadlines

There are some important deadlines for federal agencies coming up for adherence to revised Section 508 rules:

July 18, 2017

Federal agencies must incorporate revised standards into their acquisition regulations and procurement policies and directives

January 18, 2018

Federal agencies must be in compliance with new standards

Updates to Section 508 are for all non-procured ICT by federal agencies.

Just like the original 508 standards, the new standards apply to all public-facing content, such as social media, website content, documentation, and blog posts. This rule also pertains to non-public facing content and inter-agency tools used for official business communications.

These new guidelines only apply to ICT developed after the deadline of January 18, 2018. Any ICT developed prior to that date does not need to be updated. However, if any changes are made to legacy ICT after the new standards are implemented, then the legacy ICT must also be updated to the new Section 508 standards, as per the “Safe Harbor” rule.

If you are interested in learning about all changes to software, hardware, digital content, and documentation, visit the United States Access Board’s Text of the Standards and Guidelines site.


Section 508 and accessibility resources:

Accessibility Checker for Microsoft Office Products

Web Accessibility Initiative

Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA)

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG)

GSA’s Section 508 Tutorials and Guidelines

HHS – Guidelines for Microsoft Office, PDF, and HTML

Official Section 508 Website

Section 508 Best Practices

Online course at


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