Thursday, February 12, 2015

Writing for an Intended Audience

What does your audience know, and what do they need to know?

When you write an essay or speech, you must consider your audience, that group of people who will be reading your essay or listening to your speech.  

You must consider, as you are planning your essay or speech, what your audience may already know or believe about your topic so that you can appropriately inform, convince, or offer insight to that specific group of people.  You need to consider what about your topic will capture and keep the interest of those specific people.

In composition or writing classes, you may refer to that specific group of people as your intended audience. 

For example, say you are given the task of writing an essay about microscopes.

How would you want to narrow your topic if these children were your audience?

This essay would have to take into account the minimal experience your audience has with microscopes.  You can inform and interest this audience with basic information delivered in clear, everyday language. You could deliver information about how to use the classroom microscopes,  who invented the microscope, how microscopes are used in the sciences, or how to properly handle a microscope.  

You would probably not try to convince schoolchildren to buy their own microscopes or deliver a speech to them called "Reliable and Global Measurement of Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer Using Fluorescence Microscopes."  If you tried, you might lose their interest, as the type of information and the level of information in such a speech might make them "tune out."

But what if this was your audience?

Do you see how radically your essay would have to change?   This second essay, on the other hand, should be much more focused.  You should research new or developing information about microscopes in order to offer them information that may not already have.  You could use scientific jargon and more specialized examples to keep their interest.

Last, but not least, what if the local school board was your audience and you were given the task of delivering a speech to convince them to purchase new microscopes?  
With this audience, you face a much different challenge.  Delivering a speech about how to use a microscope, or offering them information about the newest use of a florescent proton microscope at M.I.T. isn't going to interest them much.  Your job is to find ways to convince the board that microscopes are worth the cost of meeting the objectives of the school district's science courses.

However, when writers do not write specifically for an intended audience, those mixed messages often appear in essays and speeches: School board members wonder why they're being told how to use a microscope, and school children wonder what in the world "M.I.T." might be, and scientists wonder why you're trying to convince them to purchase something they probably already have.  

In short, when you mix the messages in your writing, it pulls the reader or listener away from your essay or speech and you lose their attention.  In order to avoid that issue, always imagine your intended audience, and focus your writing for that specific group of people.

Focus your opening lines to capture the attention of your intended audience, formulate a relevant thesis, and offer evidence and supporting details within the body of your paper or speech that will help that particular audience receive your message.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

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