A photograph of two young men looking at each other wide eyed. They could be twins in that they are so similar in appearance.

Source: so much alike, peter and adrien, Melinda Taber, Flickr

The main concern in revising the organization of a draft for a particular audience is considering how much the audience is like you—not how much the audience LIKES you, but how much the audience is LIKE you.

If you are writing for an audience who shares your values, interests, assumptions, and cultural knowledge, communicating is easy. This audience will catch on even if you only suggest your ideas without explaining them in detail. What you should emphasize will come naturally to you and seem natural to your readers. You usually won’t have to struggle to communicate with an audience who shares your background because you are a part of this audience.

A man’s head featured in a graphic in descending sizes.

Source: the roles we play, Auberon_, Flickr

However, if the audience doesn’t share your knowledge of life or your values, assumptions, or interests, you will have to consider this distant audience as you revise. You will, for instance, probably need to include more explicit explanations and examples. You will need to carefully choose what to emphasize and take care with how you begin and end your writing. You will also want to consider the reactions of your audience and organize the essay to take advantage of positive reactions and counter negative reactions.

Parents and other adults are a common distant audience. Let’s consider problems with communicating with parents. Have you ever tried to explain your experiences at school to your parents only to find that they just don’t get what you are saying? The trouble may be that you expressed an attitude toward a topic without fully explaining the experience. When you try to communicate with a broader audience, you need to give a full explanation for your attitude.

Look at the statements below and decide which ones an adult would understand easily and which ones might be better understood by another student your age. Which statements below simply express an attitude, and which give full explanations?

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Drag sentences to the “Ready for an adult brain” if they are ready for an adult to understand. Drag sentences that need more explanation to “Needs to be revised to be understood.” When you’re finished, check your understanding for some comments about this exercise.



Check Your Understanding

Sample Responses:
You probably figured out pretty quickly that the comments that fully explain a situation are more easily understood by a “distant” audience than comments that simply express an attitude.

These examples should help you develop an awareness of the needs of distant readers. Parents and other adults are a common distant audience, and as readers, they have different needs than your peers. If your readers are not just like you, you will have to draw them in with writing that they will understand. Look at the paragraph below written by a student for inclusion in a parent newsletter.

Sometimes it is just so hard being a high school student. Sometimes I get to class just as the bell rings, and before I can even get my books and materials out, the teacher has started talking. I don’t know what he’s talking about, so I just hope that I will catch on in a minute or two. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t. Then suddenly there is a pop quiz that I didn’t expect. I’m stuck on the first problem, and before I know it, the teacher is asking us to hand in our papers. Then he gives us a homework assignment, and I just want to put my head down and sleep.

This paragraph does, in a sense, get the point across. This student feels stressed by some aspects of school life. However, the paragraph will not necessarily be clear to someone who does not go through the same experiences every day. In fact, distant readers may respond to the first sentence with “Are you kidding? You think high school is hard? You had better enjoy high school because real life is going to be a whole lot harder.”

Now read the revision below. Most of the writing has been preserved, but a few sentences and phrases have been deleted. When you’re finished reading, choose a location [A, B, C, etc.] for each of the additions in the interactive that follows. Where would each addition make the content clearer for a distant audience? Make your selection from the pull-down menu. When you’re finished, check your understanding to read the complete revision.

[A] Sometimes it is just so hard being a high school student. Sometimes I get to my second-period class just as the bell rings [B]. Before I can even get my books and materials out, my algebra teacher has started talking to us [C]. I don’t know what he’s talking about, so I just hope that I will catch on in a minute or two. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t. [D]. Then suddenly there is a pop quiz that I didn’t expect, [E]. I’m stuck on the first problem, and before I know it, the teacher is asking us to hand in our papers. Then he gives us a homework assignment, [F]. [G], and I just want to put my head down and sleep.

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Check Your Understanding

Complete, revised paragraph:

It’s not that I don’t like being in high school. I do. It’s just that there are days when nothing goes right. Sometimes I get to my second-period class just as the bell rings because my second-period class is on the other side of the building from my first-period class. Before I can even get my books and materials out, my algebra teacher has started talking to us about something hard like quadratic equations or factoring or coefficients. I don’t know what he’s talking about, so I just hope that I will catch on in a minute or two. Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t. You may think, “Why don’t you just raise your hand and ask a question?” The thing is that there are 30 students in the class, and the teacher always says to stay after class to ask individual questions. Then suddenly there is a pop quiz that I didn’t expect, and these quizzes count as half a test grade. I’m stuck on the first problem, and before I know it, the teacher is asking us to hand in our papers. Then he gives us a homework assignment, and he says we can start on it in class so we don’t have so much to do at home. I know that at this point I could ask for some help, but I just want to put my head down and sleep.

In this revised draft, the student author has considered audience by changing the way the passage begins and by adding explanations and examples.


take notes icon Now, use your notes to revise a similar passage. Change the way the passage begins so that it is more appropriate for a distant audience. Also add explanations and examples where the distant audience is unlikely to catch on without help. When you are finished, check your understanding to see a possible revision of the passage.

Keep in mind the following revision tips:

(1) You know what it feels like. (2) Class ends and you try to stuff your papers and books into your backpack. (3) You get out of your seat and crowd into the hallway. (4) People rush by you, bump into you, and sometimes stop right in front of you. (5) You have to force your way through the crowd to get to the next class on time. (6) If you have to go to your locker, you can only pray that you won’t be late. (7) You have no time even to say hello to your friends. (8) There’s no time even to catch your breath. (9) It’s a hard life being a high school student.



Check Your Understanding

Sample Response:

You may not know what it feels like to be a high school student these days. I can tell you that it isn't always easy. Imagine an ordinary school day. A class ends and you try to stuff your notes, textbook, and pencils into your backpack with three other textbooks and several other notebooks. You get out of your seat and crowd into the hallway. People rush by you, bump into you, and sometimes stop right in front of you. You have to force your way through the crowd to get to the next class on time because the passing period is only five minutes long. If you have to go to your locker, you can only pray that you won’t be late. You have no time to say hello to your friends or even to catch your breath. You may think plenty of situations in life are more stressful than what I’m describing. That is true, but it doesn’t make what I’m describing any less stressful for me. Sometimes, it’s hard being a high school student.

Your revision may be different from the sample response. There are many good ways to revise this passage. However, your revision should show that you have kept in mind what will be appropriate for a distant audience. The revision should adjust the beginning and ending because these are points of special emphasis. The revision should also adjust the amount of explanation and the number of examples.