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English 313

Instructor: Dr. William D. Klein

Analytical Methods

One of the primary focuses of Advanced Business and Technical Writing is the application of analytical methods to the process of designing and writing websites and other technical information effectively for the audience. The three main analyses studied in the course are Audience, Needs, and Usability. Since the course focuses on the Web, the analyses are geared towards defining a Web Audience; however, these methods of analysis can be applied to any form of technical writing.

Audience Analysis

Defining the audience is the first step in the writing/designing process. The audience, the purpose, and the scope of the project are all particularly relevant at this beginning stage. When writing and designing for the Web, you should be very aware of who your audience will be, so you can meet their needs. Otherwise, you will quickly lose your audience. Four methods of defining the audience are as follows:

  • Narrow your focus to a targeted audience.
  • Define multiple narrowed audiences.
  • Define the audience's objective characteristics.
  • Define the audience's subjective characteristics.

For more insight and suggestions for ways to analyze your audience, consider visiting these sites: NUA Surveys, provides results of surveys on a variety of topics and different audience categories;  GVU User Surveys, a little outdated but still provides insight into surveying your audience; and Relevant Knowledge, provides information relevant to business news and business trends.

Once the audience is defined the next step is to analyze the audience's needs.

Needs Analysis

A needs analysis is closely related to and reliant upon the audience analysis. A needs analysis defines two aspects of the audience's needs:

  • Needs related to content.
  • Needs related to functionality.
The first aspect is more concerned with the question of what; the second is more concerned with how. Within the first aspect, you want to identify the issues that the audience would like addressed. Within the second aspect, you want to identify the approach that would be best suited for your audience. Deciding upon your approach will most likely require further analysis. You may want to ask questions related to design and to user skills. Examples of these questions would be the following:
  • How advanced are the computer skills of my audience (novice to expert)?
  • How advanced are the Web skills (e.g. ability to navigate and knowledge of browser capablities) of my audience?
  • What are the expectations of the audience with regard to technological functionality (e.g. use of graphics, links and menus, and download time)?
The needs of your audience should govern the content and design of your site.

Usablity Analysis

Usability analysis can be done using various methods. Two basic methods are usability testing and applying certain guidelines to test for usability. Usability testing can be performed in a variety of ways. The following are some examples:

  • Provide paper mock-ups of Web pages to test how users would navigate the site.
  • Participate in one-on-one sessions where you watch the user navigate through the site and direct get feedback.
  • Initiate casual user tests, such as informal discussions.
  • Conduct formal user tests with interviews, questionnaires, and/or task assesments.
  • Provide online surveys and e-mail contact information for feedback.
Based on Jakob Nielsen's usability heuristics, the following guidelines are good benchmarks by which users may evaluate your site:
  • Keeps users informed.
  • Uses language, concepts, and visuals that are familiar to the user.
  • Gives users the sense that they have control and freedom.
  • Uses consistent language, concepts, and visuals.
  • Helps prevent user error through good design.
  • Provides visible cross-references and links to important information, such as orienting information, on each page.
  • Accomodates novice and expert users, providing shortcuts for the more experienced.
  • Prominently displays pertinent information.
More extensive and very helpful information can be found at the following sites:  All Things Web--Testing and Quality Assurance, site provides links to user testing techniques;  Guerrilla HCI: Using Discount Usability Engineering to Penetrate the Intimidation Barrier, article providing insight into alternative usability engineering; and Using Paper Prototypes to Manage Risk, article from 1996 on using paper prototypes/mock-ups.

Analytical Methods are integral to the process of designing and writing websites and the creation of technical documentation. Analytical Methods are also integral to Advanced Business and Technical Writing's curriculum. Please take the time to investigate the other components of the course.

You may reach Dr. Bill Klein by email at, or by voicemail at 314-516-5593.

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