Writing to Your Audience

Audience wearing 3D glasses

Source: Audience wearing 3D glasses, Asurroca, Flickr

When you are writing or speaking in the real world, you always do so with your audience in mind. You probably use different words to describe your day when speaking with your parents than you do when you are talking to your best friend. You also provide different levels of detail. If you are telling your mom about the kid who rushed around a blind corner with a tray full of food and ended up dumping it on your chemistry teacher, you might need to describe the layout of the cafeteria and what the chemistry teacher looks like without food all over him for your mom to get the full effect. If you’re telling a friend who attends the same school, you probably don’t need to include either of those details.

Unless your teacher gave you a specific audience to write for when your paper was assigned, you might answer the question “Who is my audience” with “My teacher, of course.” You would be partially right.

One of the pitfalls of writing with your teacher in mind as your only audience is that you might not give as much detail as you should, or you might not write as clearly as you should because you assume that your teacher knows plenty about your subject because he or she is your teacher!

Your paper will have a real audience (your teacher) and an assumed audience (who, other than your teacher, you imagine is reading your paper).

To be sure you are providing the right level of detail, keep your purpose in mind when you are determining your audience.

Try it

Let’s look at some different article excerpts and determine the purpose and audience for each. As you read each one, identify the audience and purpose. Use your notes to write your responses. When you are finished, check your understanding to see possible responses.

  1. Jared Loughner was considered too mentally unstable to attend community college. He was rejected by the Army. Yet buy a Glock handgun and a 33-round magazine? No problem. To protect the public, we regulate cars and toys, medicines and mutual funds. So, simply as a public health matter, shouldn’t we take steps to reduce the toll from our domestic arms industry?

    Look, I’m an Oregon farm boy who was given a .22 rifle for my 12th birthday. I still shoot occasionally when visiting the family farm, and I understand one appeal of guns: they’re fun.
From “Why Not Regulate Guns as Seriously as Toys?” by Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, January 12, 2011.

Check Your Understanding

Sample Responses:

  1. Purpose: to persuade
    Audience: opponents of gun control

  1. It’s become as much a winter tradition as eggnog at Christmas and champagne on New Year’s Eve—the first major snowstorm of the year bringing out the climate-change skeptics. And the bona fide blizzard that has frozen much of the Northeast just a few days after winter officially began definitely qualifies as major. But while piles of snow blocking your driveway hardly conjure images of a dangerously warming world, it doesn’t mean that climate change is a myth. The World Meteorological Organization recently reported that 2010 is almost certainly going to be one of the three warmest years on record, while 2001 to 2010 is already the hottest decade in recorded history. Indeed, according to some scientists, all of these events may actually be connected.
From “Holiday Blizzard: More Signs of Global Warming” by Bryan Walsh, Time, December 28, 2010.

Check Your Understanding

Sample Responses:

  1. Purpose: to inform
    Audience: climate-change skeptics

  1. Pushing animals to the brink—and then trying to bring them back—is nothing new for humans. Remedies have long included setting aside land for a special habitat (spotted owls) or making it illegal to kill them (whooping cranes).

    But sweeping changes that would accompany projected climate change mean that an animal’s traditional range may no longer be habitable to it in a few years – or that a key food source or resource it needs is disappearing. And that calls for different solutions from those in the past.
From “Saving wildlife in a warmer world” by Mark Clayton, Christian Science Monitor, November 17, 2009.

Check Your Understanding

Sample Responses:

  1. Purpose: to explain
    Audience: those interested in saving wildlife