Lesson 3. Question Analysis: From Assignment to Message

KEY CONCEPTS

  • Communication message tasks begin with an assignment.
  • Communication assignments can sometimes be very specific, and sometimes quite vague.
  • The scope of the assignment needs to be clarified as much as possible.
  • Sometimes an assignment will be ambiguous and initial research must be done.
  • The first “audience” that a communicator must keep in mind is the “gatekeeper” audience.
  • One of the most important things to determine at this stage is the purpose of the message.

LEARNING OUTCOMES

After completing this lesson, you will be able to:

  • understand the types of assignments that might trigger the need to develop a comprehensive information strategy.
  • articulate the questions you need to ask of your supervisor/colleagues to clarify the message task.
  • determine what the person giving the assignment requires.
  • determine the parameters of the information task.
  • determine the purpose of the message.

As students you’ve all dealt with frustratingly ambiguous assignments. Knowing how many pages you are required to write, how the document should be formatted, whether and how to cite the information used – all of these are specifics of the assignment that you hope your instructors spell out for you. If those specifics aren’t clear, you ask your teachers to give you more detail on the parameters of the assignment and on the “metrics” that will be used to judge the quality of the work you turn in.

When on the job, the assignments you get will usually not have this level of detail. In fact, “deals well with ambiguity” is often a line on job descriptions about the ideal candidate. Clarifying the task will be one of the first steps the communicator must take when a supervisor throws out an assignment like, “One of our clients is interested in exploring e-wallets. What do we know about them?” or “We have to do a better job of getting legislators to understand our company. Do an analysis.” or “There have been lots of motorcycle accidents in the past month – we ought to do an in-depth story.”

Determining as completely as possible the “context” for the message will help you begin to put parameters around the task.

In this lesson we will discuss the aspects of a message assignment that you should clarify with the “gatekeeper.” The more you know about what the “gatekeeper” in a communications organization looks for and values, the more you will be able to pursue a strategy that leads you to successfully fulfilling the message mission.