Evaluating and Revising Organization for a Particular Audience

A photograph of a marble bust of Julius Caesar

Source: The Green Man (Gaius Julius Caesar), Egypt 1st ct. BC, Altes Museum Berlin, Frank M. Rafik, Flickr

What is my audience like? What are their interests? What are their preferences? Consider these questions as you revise the organization of an essay. You need, of course, to be most aware of these concerns when you revise an essay for an audience that is different from the audience you had in mind when you wrote it originally.

Let’s consider the revision of an essay that explains a passage from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. We will start by thinking about how you might explain this passage to different audiences.

In the play, Brutus and several other Roman senators decide that, for the good of the Republic, Caesar must be killed. When Caesar sees that his friend Brutus is among the conspirators who have stabbed him, he says in disbelief, “Et tu, Brute?

A photograph of a scene from William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. It shows Caesar's character surrounded by other male actors and an actress.

Source: Actors from Julius Caesar, University of Denver, Flikr

If you were reading Julius Caesar and you came across the scene just described, you might explain it to yourself by saying:

Caesar is amazed and disappointed that Brutus is one of the assassins. He feels betrayed.

Read each of the revision scenarios below. Choose the best response to the question by clicking on the correct answer.

Scenario 1

Imagine that you are not just conversing with yourself but writing a response on a bulletin board site (a forum) where someone posted a question asking what this quote means. Your audience would be other readers of the play, and in this case, your audience would have different interests and expectations.

1. What could you assume?

They know the general circumstances under which Caesar says this, his relationship to Brutus, and so forth.
Correct!

They know about sources for the play (such as Plutarch) and have seen or read the play several times.
Try Again. The bulletin board audience may have all this background knowledge, but you can’t assume it.

They know in a foggy way who Caesar was and might know that he was killed by senators in the Roman government.
Try Again. If they are on a bulletin board asking this question, they probably have more than foggy impressions about the play.

2. What could you expect about this audience’s interests?

They will be interested in the emotion Caesar is expressing and how the passage connects with the larger themes of the play.
Correct!

They will be interested in knowing how this quote applies to the situation they heard it in.
Try Again. Let’s give them more credit than this.

They will be interested in seeing how well you explain yourself and how original your ideas about this quote are.
Try Again. Let’s hope this is not why they asked the question on the bulletin board.
Photo of a girl watching Elmer Fudd while eating a corndog

Source: Julie Watching TV, camknows, Flickr


Scenario 2

Now let’s imagine you are watching Saturday morning cartoons with your six-year-old niece. A cartoon character, maybe Daffy Duck, says “Et tu, Elmer?” to Elmer Fudd. Your niece turns to you and asks you what this means. The audience now is a six-year-old girl. She will certainly have different interests in and expectations of your comments.

1. What could you assume?

She knows the general circumstances under which Caesar says this, his relationship to Brutus, and so forth.
Try Again. She might be a really intellectual six-year-old, but you can’t assume it.

She knows about sources for the play (such as Plutarch) and has seen or read the play several times.
Try again. This will probably not be true.

She knows, in a foggy way, who Caesar was and might know that he was killed by senators in the Roman government.
Correct! She probably won’t even know this much.

2. What could you expect about your niece’s interests?

She will be interested in the emotion Elmer is expressing and how this scene connects with the larger themes of the cartoon.
Try Again. This is not likely.

She will be interested in knowing how this quote applies to the situation she heard it in.
Correct! It’s all about Daffy and Elmer.

She will be interested in seeing how well you explain yourself and how original your ideas about this quote are.
Try Again. Your niece just loves you. She most likely won’t care about this.

Scenario 3

If, on the other hand, this is an essay for a contest to be judged by English teachers, then what would your assumptions be? Again, the expectations and interests of this audience will be much different from those of the other two.

1. What could you assume?

They know the general circumstances under which Caesar says this, his relationship to Brutus, and so forth.
Try Again. Most likely, they will know this information.

They know about sources for the play (such as Plutarch) and have seen or read the play several times.
Correct! This is probably a OK to assume.

They know in a foggy way who Caesar was and might know that he was killed by senators in the Roman government.
Try again.

2. What could you expect they will be interested in?

They will be interested in the emotion Caesar is expressing and how this passage connects with the larger themes of the play.
Try Again. They will be interested in this, but if they are judging a contest, their interest will also go in a different direction.

They will be interested in knowing how this quote applies to the situation they heard it in.
Try Again.

They will be interested in seeing how well you explain yourself and how original your ideas about this quote are.
Correct! It’s a contest after all. They have to choose a winner.


A photograph of a female high school student concentrating on something

Source: Ch-x Bild 2, Webmaster-chx, Wikimedia

When you are evaluating the appropriateness of your essay’s organization for an audience, you have to consider what they already know about the topic and what they are interested in finding out.

How does an audience’s knowledge and interest affect the organization of your essay? The organizational decisions you consider next are choices about what subtopics to include, how much emphasis to place on each one, and how to order the subtopics.

Look at the paragraph below written for a teacher in an AP class about the soothsayer’s ominous warning to Caesar: “Beware the ides of March.”

It is in the second scene of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar that a soothsayer tells Caesar to “beware the ides of March.” We are fewer than 100 lines into the play, and already we are being prepared for something terrible to happen to Caesar. Of course, an audience coming to see this particular play is probably already aware that Caesar is going to be killed, but just as we can watch and rewatch (or read and reread) Oedipus Rex and still be gripped with the urge to shout at Oedipus, “Don’t ask any more questions,” we can be aware of what will happen to Caesar and still feel the suspense and dread we are supposed to feel. Since the audience knows that something terrible is going to happen, they feel the dramatic tension when Caesar dismisses the soothsayer, saying, “He is a dreamer. Let us leave him.” There is no reason that Caesar should pay attention to a person in the crowd who gives him such a warning, but the audience knows that, in this case, he is wrong to ignore it. “Beware the ides of March” both challenges Caesar’s confidence and hints to the audience that something terrible will happen on March 15.

How could you change the organization of this paragraph to make it more appropriate for an audience of classmates in an in-class presentation? You want to increase the amount of interest and connection with students’ lives. You will need to consider choices about which subtopics to include, which to emphasize, and how to order them.

Consider what subtopics to include. Choose “good idea” or “bad idea” for each question below when you decide what should be included.

The title page of the Tragedy of Oedipus featuring the theatre in which the play was performed, His Royal Highness’ Duke’s Theatre with the title from the movie Scream superimposed on top.

Sources: Oedipus A Tragedy, John Dryden, Wikimedia and Scream logo, Mike Pearson, Wikimedia

1. Take out the analogy of suspense in Oedipus Rex and substitute an analogy of suspense in the movie Scream. Refer to the comment by Sidney’s father, “I could have sworn I heard screaming.”

Good idea

Bad idea



2. Take out reference to “dramatic tension.”

Good idea

Bad idea

Consider which subtopics need to be emphasized. Choose “good idea” or “bad idea” for each question below when you decide what should be included.

A drawing of a black cat standing near a large number thirteen

Source: Superstition, just Luc, Flickr

3. Give more emphasis to the idea of creating suspense by giving the audience information. Use other examples (Scream and other movies also).

Good idea

Bad idea


4. Give more emphasis to the way superstition can affect us in daily life.

Good idea

Bad idea


Consider the order of presentation of subtopics. Choose “good idea” or “bad idea” for each question below when you decide how the subtopics should be presented.

An image of the “death” tarot card. It shows a winged skull surrounded by butterflies. With the Roman numeral for thirteen placed at the bottom.

Source: Death, larrymac, Flickr

5. Start with an example of a bad omen that might bother someone before an important event like a baseball game or big test.

Good idea

Bad idea


6. Start with the interesting trivia that Caesar was deaf in his left ear, which is why he says to the soothsayer, “Speak. Caesar is turned to hear.”

Good idea

Bad idea

These revisions for classmates made the writing less formal and less academic. Usually you will revise in the other direction, making an essay more formal, more academic. For the next activity, you will use a graphic organizer to learn how to make notes for this purpose. Click the link to open the graphic organizer. You can save, download, and print this file. When you are finished using the graphic organizer, return to the lesson. Graphic Organizer Instructions

Remember that audience awareness works both ways. Many people say that it’s much harder to write simply and clearly than to express yourself in the complex prose of academic writing. Either way, it’s just as important to revise for a less academic audience as it is for a more academic audience.