As a student sitting in a classroom being asked to write an expository essay, you can easily forget to consider your audience. “Audience?” you say. “What audience? The only person who is going to read this is my teacher.”

A man reading a copy of “The Nation” at a political rally. He is lying on his back, propped on a pillow, and is holding a highlighter.

Source: “Zuccotti Park, Oct 2011-13”, Ed Yourdon, Flickr

Even when the assignment includes the direction to “Write for an audience of interested adults” or “Write for readers of a national news magazine,” you still aren’t fooled into thinking that you’re writing for anyone other than Mr. Garcia or Ms. Burkett.

Yet, being a good writer means being able to write to communicate, without any grade being assigned. It means being able to do writing that other people will want to read and that they can understand.

We are considering only the organization of expository essays in this lesson, but what you learn about audience awareness will apply to all sorts of communication you do: texting, job applications, personal e-mails, and even oral communication like interviews. Communication always involves more than just the speaker or writer. Communication also involves thinking about the listeners or readers.

A photo of a pair of grandparents looking at the camera; they sit in front of a tree and wear sweaters.

Source: “Grandparents,” Rob & Lisa Meehan, Flickr

You could, of course, write with a general audience in mind and try to make your writing interesting and clear in a general way. If you are a good writer, though, the organization of your essay will change depending on who the readers are. Different audiences will be interested in different aspects of what you write.

The parents and grandparents of your fellow students, for example, may need more explanation to understand and relate to a topic than an audience of your peers who may understand with only a mention. Some audiences will have a different perspective than you and, although you don’t have to reject your own perspective, you need to fill in this gap if you want to be understood. If you really want to communicate, you need to adjust the organization or structure of your writing to fit the audience.

How Are Audiences Different?

A pep rally for Round Rock’s Lady Dragons. The crowd is cheering and holding a huge “Rock ’Em!” banner.

Source: Round Rock High School Pep Rally, Dragon Cheer, Flickr

Let’s experiment with two audiences. We’ll try to predict what their different interests and sympathies are around this essay topic: “school pep rallies.” Obviously, there will be exceptions to whatever generalizations we make, but the general outlines we draw can help you understand how audiences differ. This understanding will also help you adjust the organization of your pep rally essay for two different audiences.

Different audiences will have different attitudes toward pep rallies during school hours.On a scale from “Not at all” to “Extremely,” decide how students and parents might respond to each statement below. How sympathetic will students be? How sympathetic will parents be? Click in each box below to see how we responded. When you’re finished, click the “Discussion” arrow to see more explanation. Remember, more than one answer is possible in each column. Green marks indicate a likely response. Red marks indicate a less likely response.

  1. School is very stressful. Having pep rallies during school hours helps relieve stress.

How sympathetic do you think each audience will be to this aspect of pep rallies?

Students   Parents
       Not at all       
       Slightly       
       Very       
       Extremely       
Discussion

Students “live” the stress of school five days a week. Parents are probably aware of the stress but are not going to feel it the same way students do. If you emphasize stress in your essay, especially at the beginning, parents might start thinking that your essay is not addressing the true mission of the school and is being too easy on students.

On the other hand, students will probably want to read more of your essay if you begin with an emphasis on how much schools need to relieve some of the stress during the school day.

Of course, there are parents who are enormously sympathetic and students who are hard liners on the issue of stress. Probably, however, students are going to be more sympathetic and interested than parents.



  1. School time is limited. The school day should be limited to productive activities, not pep rallies.

How sympathetic do you think each audience will be to this aspect of pep rallies?

Students   Parents
       Not at all       
       Slightly       
       Very       
       Extremely       
Discussion

Parents are paying taxes and, in some cases, tuition so their children can attend school. Usually they will be very interested and sympathetic with any move to increase school productivity. They want schools to educate. Students, on the other hand, are living the school life and often do not see education as the only important aspect of a good school experience.

Students are probably not going to be as interested as parents in limiting the school day to productive activities.



  1. We are proud of our athletes. Pep rallies are an important way to make them feel supported.

How sympathetic do you think each audience will be to this aspect of pep rallies?

Students   Parents
       Not at all       
       Slightly       
       Very       
       Extremely       
Discussion

Wow. What a range! This reasoning does not divide along generational lines the way the first two statements did. Some parents are more passionate about school athletic teams than students. If you are taking this into consideration in writing an essay for parents to read, it will probably depend on your local situation. How do the parents in your school feel about supporting the athletic teams? Whatever the answer, you should definitely use good judgment to help guide the organization of your essay.



  1. Students should have a feeling of school community. Pep rallies are a way to help students feel connected.

How sympathetic do you think each audience will be to this aspect of pep rallies?

Students   Parents
       Not at all       
       Slightly       
       Very       
       Extremely       
Discussion

Probably students will be more interested in this aspect of pep rallies than parents, but you might have a situation where the parents are very enlightened and lend full support to community-building activities as a way to make education better.

High School students in school colors riding on a float in a pep rally

Source: “SFT Chargers Homecoming Pep Rally 3,” Marion Doss, Flickr

If you answered each of these questions differently, don’t worry. There are no right or wrong answers. This exercise was intended to get you thinking about how different audiences react to different ideas.