Persona is a complex term that means different things to different people and different discourse communities, communities of practice.

Persona is

  • how a person or literary character presents him/her/themselves/theirselves to the world. For instance, is the person or character playing a familiar role, perhaps an Archetypal Role (e.g., The Soldier, Rock Star, Magician, more)
  • a user of an application, product, or service that represents other users
  • a rhetorical construct based on rhetorical analysis,

Key Concepts: Rhetorical Reasoning; Rhetorical Stance; Customer Discovery; Venture Design.


Below is a discussion of the uses of persona in literature, writing studies, and customer discovery.

Persona in Writing Studies

Persona in Writing Studies is broadly concerned with the role of persona in communication and ways writers can work with the concept of persona to improve their communications.

From the perspective of Writing Studies, a persona refers to a writer’s effort to project a certain sort of personality style or loyalty/leadership in a community. For instance,

  • a politician could pander by attempting to appear religious when the last time he viewed a church was watching the Exorcist or The Two Popes.
  • a self-assessed introvert could present herself as an extrovert when applying for a job as a salesperson or some other sort of role that involves dealing with the public.
  • a writer who views a topic to be deadly serious (e.g., environmental degradation) could use humor or satire to lighten the tone of his textl

Adopting a persona is not necessarily disingenuous. The politician could be deeply concerned about representing her constituents. The car salesman could really care that he finds the car that fits your needs and desires.

Readers, right or wrong, make judgments about who you are as a Rhetor (aka Knowledge Worker, Symbol Analyst, Writer, etc.). As a rhetor you may consider your tone and voice as reasoned, thoughtful, and intelligent whereas the reader might dismiss your text as biased, underdeveloped, or emotional. Communication is invariably a psychosocial, semiotic process. At one level, you cannot control the interpretations of your audience.

However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try! At the very least, you must know your diction can have a profound effect on whether or not your intended audience considers your thesis with openness.

In rhetorical situations where you believe your audience may not be open to your thesis, genre, research methods, you may want to give some special attention as to how your readers/users may be perceiving your persona. You want to avoid a situatioin where your reader/user disregards whatever you say just because they don’t like your persona.

[ Audience | Researching Your Audience ]

Persona in Literature

Persona in literature is

  • a mask, a role, a performance, which someone (a person, a literary character) projects to others in response to a particular rhetorical situation.
    • In 1895 Vladimir Propp first noted a handful of characters that appear repeatedly in human stories, especially folktales: The Hero; The Helper; The Villain; The False Hero; The Donor; The Dispatcher; The Princess; The Princess’ Father.

Persona in Customer Discovery & Usability

In Customer Discovery as well as Usability Studies, two common empirical research methods, persona (sometimes Customer Persona or User Persona) refers to a type of user who represents a cohort of other users.

Founders/Developers/Investigators engage in customer discovery or venture design in order to better understand the problem space from the customer’s point of view. By interviewing loads of customers, they hope to identify how the user navigates the problem space. They talk one-on-one with customers to understand what each customer thinks, sees, feels, and does when facing a problem in a problem space.

Then, over time, after repeated customer discovery interviews, founders/developers/investigators look for patterns in customer interviews. They come to divide customers into customer segments by examining how the customer navigates the problem space. For example, when interviewing customers about their experiences learning new technologies for his research study on what influences people regarding their adoption of new technologies, Everett Rogers (2003) theorized there are five major types of consumers:

  1. Innovators
  2. Early Adopters
  3. Early Majority
  4. Late Majority
  5. Laggards

Works Cited

Propp, V. (1927). Morphology of the Folk Tale. Trans., Laurence Scott. 2nd ed. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968.

Rogers, E. M. (2003). Diffusion of innovations (5th ed.). New York, NY: Free Press.