Why Use an Audience Rubric


Posted October 1, 2019

Business documents must connect the dots between the information they contain and the audience to which they’re speaking, if they’re to achieve business objectives. Imagine stepping into a boardroom to make a sales pitch. Not only does speaking to executives come with unique challenges, the only way a proposal or report will successfully lead to a desired outcome is if the writer can draw a clear line among the facts, arguments, and main points and the needs and interests of those leaders.
This is true of any kind of business document, not just proposals and presentations. Emails, memos, reports, papers, sales collateral, studies, articles, and more are all intended to induce change in the reader. If nothing else, the author wants to inform readers, so that they can make more knowledgeable decisions while regarding the author as a credible resource for information. All this requires that:
  • Readers understand what the writer is conveying.
  • The content is meaningful to the reader.
  • Readers feel motivated to act.
  • The content aligns with the readers’ personal goals or needs.
  • The content is organized into a coherent story that supports the larger conclusion.
  • Readers know what they need to do.
These points all require writers to understand their audience. Who are they? What do they want? What do they already know? What is their own motivation for reading?
An audience rubric can provide these answers. The concept of a “rubric” originated in academia as an organized way for teachers to communicate grading expectations to students. Organizations and individual writers can do the same. In fact, formalizing understanding of their target readers is crucial for organizations whose teams regularly create reports, proposals, and other documents. Further, since most businesses have several audiences – customers, investors, internal colleagues, industry peers, the C-suite, regulators, etc. – audience rubrics can help differentiate them and help writers understand how to appeal to each type of reader.
The process of creating an audience rubric for your business document starts with thinking and planning. What do you know about the audience and what do you need to know? Here’s one very simple breakdown as an illustration:
Instructors at Gothenburg University in Sweden argue that readers can be grouped into four categories: (1) they’re deciding if they want to become more aware of the subject matter; (2) they want to learn about the subject at a high level; (3) they want to use the information from the article without having all the details; (4) they want to study, understand, and use/put into action the subject matter in full detail.
These categories strongly inform writers’ understanding of their reader. Someone in category 4, for example, is going to be looking for a lot of credible details and won’t be put off by the use of technical terms. Someone in category 1, by contrast, will have less familiarity with the material and will need more basic explanations; thus, the author will want to take steps to cultivate interest by emphasizing ways in which the subject matter is appealing, exciting, useful, and so on.
Specific rubrics will vary according to target audience, document type, business objectives, and more. They require care and planning to pull together. If in doubt, don’t hesitate to seek assistance from experts.
About Hurley Write, Inc.
Hurley Write, Inc., a certified women-owned small business (WBENC and WOSB), Historically Underutilized (HUB), and Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE), has been designing and teaching customized onsite and online technical, business, and scientific writing courses for over 30 years. We also develop and teach specialty courses, such as how to write proposals and standard operating procedures (SOPs) and deviation and investigation reports, and how to prepare and give great presentations.  
Links: internal, Gothenburg University