Web Writing That Works!

           A Project of
The Communication Circle

Guidelines Rants Patterns Poems Services Classes Press Blog Resources About Us Site Map

HomeRants > Talk like a human being. > Probe your audiences--gently.> Analyze their tasks



How to analyze their tasks:

A task is an action someone performs to reach a goal.

Identify the goal.

Each task has a cycle.

Organize the tasks.

Recognize the scale of tasks.

Turn your inventory into a task hierarchy.

Diagram the flow of work.

Extract a vocabulary.

Analyze their tasks

Imagine that, somehow, through interviewing people, studying the research, or asking questions on your site, you have gathered a lot of information about exactly what your consumers do and why.

If you want to produce text that helps people achieve their goals, think through the tasks each consumer performs over and over.

A task is an action someone performs to reach a goal.

The name of the task is whatever the consumer says it is--not what your team likes to call it, and not the glamorous term used by marketing.

Each person starts with some more or less articulate goal, such as

  • Finishing the budget
  • Getting a raise
  • Learning a new skill
  • Getting in touch with other people
  • Being amused

Sometimes, an individual's goal aligns with what the boss wants them to do, but usually the organization's goals, such as increasing profit margins, reducing time to market, or cutting five people from the support team, just make the individual's life difficult. Pretending to do what the boss wants, while getting some personal amusement, can be a challenge.

As a writer, you must care more about your consumers than about their corporations, universities, agencies, labs, or non-governmental bodies. Corporations don't read.

Try to identify the goals in the way your consumers really talk about them, because the terms they use to describe their goals reflect their values, passions, and life experience.


Who am I writing for, and, incidentally, who am I? (Full chapter from Hot Text, in PDF, 566K, or about 10 minutes at 56k)











 Identify the goal. Why are they doing the task?

Goals are as multifarious as people. For instance, here are some of the different goals people may come to your site with:

  • To have fun--to be entertained, pulled out of one's self, aroused, fulfilled, stirred up and satisfied, to participate in a game, to play.
  • To learn--to pick up facts, to see patterns, to recognize sequences, groups, hierarchies, and themes, to learn to solve problems, to talk in a new language.
  • To act--to make a purchase, to register, to acquire, download, send/receive information, software, music, videos, whatnot.
  • To be aware--to sense what is going on internally and in others, to grow, to become, or just to be.
  • To get close to people--to share, to show off, to feel intimate with total strangers through virtual conversations, postings, flames, posturing and revealing.

Each task has a cycle

Generally, people formulate a goal rather vaguely, and then form a specific intention, which demands a certain course of action.

When they carry out that activity, they pause and look around them, to see what has changed. They interpret the state of the world, to evaluate the outcome.

Carrying out a task, then, involves the entire cycle, starting with the aim, and moving through activity to a decision about whether or not the actions have led to success.

You may want to analyze important tasks by walking the person through this cycle. Or you might settle just for noting the concrete actions taken to achieve the goal. (These actions may end up as individual steps in your instructions, if you need to tell people how to do the task.)

Organize the tasks

Start by listing all the tasks that flow from a particular goal, in no particular order. Then organize them into chronological order, as best you can.

  • Some tasks always happen at the start, others at the end, and the rest could happen, well, at any time.
  • For the tasks that could happen anytime, try to discern a reasonable grouping, by action or object worked on.

Make some kind of meaningful order out of the collection of tasks, because this inventory forms the basis for a menu system and an organization of your instructions or procedures.

Recognize the scale of the tasks

You may find that some tasks are very large scale, such as shopping, or getting a raise.

Other tasks are intermediate in scale, such as finding the section of the site that describes printers, or completing the new proposal for the boss.

And lots of tasks are small scale, like spell-checking the proposal to make sure you have the company name spelled right.

Beneath the level of a task are individual steps.

Turn your inventory into a task hierarchy

Make a multi-level taxonomy of all the tasks that your individual consumer performs in pursuit of a particular goal, from large to small.

You may want to build a task hierarchy for each goal pursued by each of your consumers, then merge the hierarchies, to see which tasks are vital to everyone, and which aren't, or where the variations occur.

In this way you are creating a menu system for a set of procedures, or FAQs, showing people how the large-scale tasks relate to the others, as they drill down to the specific task they want help on.

And you are beginning to see where you may need to offer separate menus for people who have different goals.

Diagram the flow of work

When work often moves from one person to another, diagram the workflow, too. Show how the same document or transaction moves from desk to desk. In this way you can create accurate scenarios for different consumers, looking at things from one person's desk, and then another's.

Insert the problems along the way. You'll probably want to write a way around these, or offer a solution.

Extract a vocabulary

Make a list of the terms that these different consumers use for the goals, the tasks, the objects they operate on, the outcomes. For definitions, quote your consumers, if you can, rather than acting like Noah Webster.

Next: Lump people together into small groups

Who is this person?  What task involves wearing a Lego truck on his hat?




Home | Guidelines | Rants | Patterns | Poems | Services | Classes | Press | Blog |
Resources | About Us | Site Map

Web Writing that Works!


  2002 Jonathan and Lisa Price

The Communication Circle

Discuss at HotText@yahoogroups.com

Email us directly at ThePrices@ThePrices.com

Order Hot Text (the book) from Amazon