OASIS: Audience

Audience: Who’s listening to your speaking-writing? How do they influence it?

write 2Many writing teachers say it is important to imagine an audience when you write. This is because writing is for readers, not just for a grade. When you are speaking to someone, for example, and they give you a confused look, you usually sense that they are confused and you change your words and make your statements clearer. An imagined audience has the same power to shape your writing. If you think about the face of a listener, you might make your writing clearer and more readable. An imagined audience even helps you think of more ideas to write. If you do not know who your audience is, it might be harder for you to think of what to say, how to say it, and why to say it. Before you even start writing, imagine a person or a group of people who are waiting and listening to you. As you write, imagine that you are speaking to them. Think about how your audience would respond to each sentence you are writing. Here are two statements, for example. One has a sense of audience, and the other does not:

1) Without audience: School officials are usually not concerned with students’ comfort-levels. Officials might care about student comfort. But, students’ opinions are not their first priority.

2) With Audience: School officials, it seems, are usually not concerned with students’ comfort-levels. To be sure, officials might care about student comfort. My point is not that officials do not care, but that students’ opinions are not their first priority.

Notice how the writer’s imagined audience in example (2) makes the writing sound more interactive.

So, how do you imagine an audience? You can do it the same way you imagine a reader when you compose and email. You have a picture in your mind of the reader. Sometimes you change your words or sentences because you are considering your imagined reader. The same thing should happen when you are writing an argumentative essay. You should picture a person in your mind, with all their reactions, emotions, and counterarguments. Argue and negotiate in your mind with this audience that is part of your writing occasion. Imagine an audience that fits your occasion. You might not argue about high school uniforms with residents of a retirement home, for example. But you might debate it with school officials because you easily imagine them to share the same occasion. Your imagined audience is most effective when you think of those who really need to hear your argument and who can make a positive change in the world after hearing you. An imagined audience is a great tool to help you focus on what you are saying, why you are saying it, and especially how you are saying it. Speak your ideas, sentences and paragraphs aloud or in your head before, during, and after writing them, imagining how your audience might react.

When you imagine your audience, you should think about the audience’s identity, assumptions and biases. Who are they, and how does their identity make them hold to certain beliefs and feelings about the world? When arguing about high school uniforms with a school official? You must anticipate the values, assumptions, and biases of this school official. Perhaps the official is trying to satisfy local community organizations who have the power to threaten his or her job. Perhaps the official believes that campus security is more important than student freedom. These are the official’s biases and assumptions. Addressing the assumptions and biases of your imagined audience is a skillful writing strategy called critical thinking. In writing and in everyday communication, critical thinking assesses the assumptions, biases, and values of others. When you think critically, you not only gain the ability to communicate more effectively and meaningfully to your (imagined) audience, but you also gain a better understanding of your own assumptions, biases, and values. Maybe you have hidden biases that affect your judgment of the topic. Knowing your own ways of thinking, your hidden values and beliefs, therefore, is an important part of writing well-formed arguments. An imagined audience helps you do this.

2.1 Using meta-discourse markers to connect with an audience

Look at the plant again. If the leaves are connected to the stem, then the leaves are healthy. Similarly, if you want your writing to sound like it is connected to the audience, use meta-discourse markers. These help you communicate clearly with and connect meaningfully to your imagined audience. Actually, many students have found that using meta-discourse markers not only helps them connect with an audience better, but it also help them think more clearly. There are five kinds of meta-discourse markers. 1) assessment markers (showing a writer’s attitude toward or judgment of the topic), 2) manner-of-speaking markers (showing the manner in which a writer makes a statement), 3) evidential markers (showing how true the writer thinks a statement is), 4) hearsay markers (showing the source of information of a statement), and 5) topic change markers (showing a change in topic or a detour in ideas). Examples of these are below:

1) Assessment markers: strikingly, surprisingly, ideally, importantly, (un)fortunately

Example: Unfortunately, some still think that requiring students to wear uniforms helps them to focus and learn more.

2) Manner-of-speaking markers: quite frankly, briefly, generally, honestly, ironically

Example: Ironically, many school officials feel that enforcing a dress code will give students freedom of mind. This is quite frankly a stark contradiction.

3) Evidential markers: certainly, definitely, obviously, perhaps, seemingly, (un)arguably

Example: There are certainly many success stories about high school dress codes, but it seems that these stories are the exception, not the rule.

4) Hearsay markers: reportedly, allegedly, it has been claimed, it is said, they say

Example: Some argue that enforcing a dress code makes the school campus more secure. Some high schools, it has even been claimed, have solved problems of gang violence through enforcing strict dress codes.

5) Topic change markers: by the way, incidentally, on a different note, speaking of X

Example: School officials at Roy High school wanted to institute a dress code mainly to improve security. Incidentally, most of the school officials there were former police officers. But as I was saying, the priority there was security.

Using meta-discourse markers not only helps you connect with an audience—to show your audience what you are saying and why—but also helps you 1) to be more realistic about your topic by better understanding the truth value of the statements you make—using more careful wording when you are unsure of how true your claims are, 2) to better organize the topics in your essay to fit the paper’s main point, and 3) to make your revising and rewriting work easier.