The Sender-Reader relationship

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The relationship between the sender of a communication and the recipient greatly influences the nature of the communication. Therefore, it is important that the Technical Communicator understands this relationship before developing the communication.

Possible relationships

(Classification of relationship based on the use of the communication.)


Can be varied and can change under different circumstances. Generally not much technical communication falls into this category.

General public

Generally aimed at no person in particular (e.g. signs like "Keep off the grass", but may target a specific (but still unknown) audience (such as niche advertising). In this category, the recipient may not be looking for information, but the communicator wants them to receive it.

User instructions

Communicator is telling the recipient how to do something. Examples: assembly instructions, operating instructions, etc. In this category, the user is generally looking for specific information.

Considerations: level of understanding of the user; what they expect to receive in terms of information.

Teaching material

Generally written for people with a specific level of knowledge (and this will generally be known to the communicator).

Record material

Such as archives, or official documents. May never be read (e.g. census data) or may be looked at often (exchange rate information, or [e.g.] Incoterms); the information has to be there in case someone needs to refer to it (possibly at a much later date). Generally very formal/factual. May be vast amount of information. Consider the type of person that may need to access this information in the future, and the type of information that they will need to glean from it.

Factors influencing the relationship

The sender's intention

The sender may want to achieve one of a number of different things through the communication. (Actually, the sender may want to achieve several different things - but it is usually best for a Technical Communicator to focus on a single goal in a document - that way, there is less chance of misunderstanding and mis-communication.) Some of the more common intentions are outlined below.

To teach

The sender of the communication wants to...

This type of communication is categorized by...

To persuade

The sender of the communication wants the recipient to perform some specific action. Typically, this will be to buy a specific product (as is the case with marketing leaflets), or to do something that they would otherwise not bother doing.

This type of communication is categorized by...

To entertain

For self-satisfaction

The recipient's motivation

To learn

The recipient of the communication wants to know how to do something, or how something works.

If the recipient wants to learn what the communication is teaching them, then they may be willing to put a bit more effort into receiving the communication. This means that the Technical Communicator does not necessarily have to gain `buy-in', and may not need to work so hard to maintain interest levels. This is not to say that the Technical Communicator does not have to work at the communication, or can produce a lackluster communication - just that they may well be able to concentrate more on the actual `teaching' aspect of the communication rather than the more....????

To obtain instructions

The recipient of the communication is looking to the communication to provide them with specific instructions.

In this case, the recipient may or may not want to carry out the instructions - but this is irrelevant as they know they have to carry them out regardless (otherwise they would not have even looked at the communication). This type of communication should therefore be kept short, direct, and above all, instructive.

For general information

For entertainment

To evaluate

The recipient's attitude

To the subject

Is it a subject they are interested in?

To the source

Is it a source that they have used before? Do they trust or distrust that source?

To the medium

Some readers are predisposed to specific types of communication. Some prefer on-line documentation; others prefer hard-copies they can write on; some prefer to be told things in person.

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