Audience Awareness Should Guide Writing

Image for postPicture of books from author’s personal library

We understand dialogue changes depending on the audience. A simple greeting can be formal, casual, personal, or non-verbal. Each of the following examples illustrates a teen boy meeting someone and shows how they might act and what they might say.

  1. When the teen met his girlfriend’s father for the first time, he shook the man’s hand firmly, looked him in the eye and said, “It is a pleasure to meet you, sir.”
  2. Sam high-fived his buddy when they passed in the hall, “Hey, guy!” Then he continued on without another word or a backwards glance.
  3. My spine tingled when he approached and placed his hand on my back and whispered, “Babe.” Only one word, and I knew he was interested.
  4. They acknowledged each other with a head nod and a smirk.

Social norms and roles dictate how people present themselves in public and private settings. Writing is no different. If an author’s desire to produce realistic, engaging text, it is important to understand the impact of their words.

Identify the readers

Once a topic is chosen,the writer must begin to identify the readership. If the audience is generic, the writing will be generic lacking in voice, style and ultimately focus. Writing comes alive when it is directed to a specific group. For instance, a reader of this article, I would assume, is a writer or desires to be one. The range of possible readers in this category is immense.

Children may grow up to be great authors, but they must start by learning the alphabet. Elmo’s Easy as ABC might be a book they would read to begin their writing life. Children’s books contain simple language, pictures, and animated characters.

Older writers may use writing as a means to understanding. Lynn Nelson begins Writing and Being by explaining to the reader that his text is not a book about writing; it is more.

“This is a book about people writing. It is about writing as a tool for intellectual, psychological, and spiritual growth. It is about our language and our being and their powerful interconnectedness, which have often been taken away from us without our even knowing what we have lost. This book is about taking back the miraculous gift of our language and using it as an instrument of creation.”

Nelson proceeds to provide lessons on writing that ultimately teach the reader to appreciate life and the power of language. The chapters read like personal letters encouraging writers to speak from their hearts as the author shares stories that inspire and teach.

Journals are an alternative type of book that encourages writers. Many authors have compiled quotes about writing, merged them with blank pages to produce inspiring journals to prompt writers. Authors of journals provide the motivation for others to add the words and write their own stories.

Annie Dillard’s narrative, The Writing Life, reads like poetry as she shares her life experiences while weaving in lessons about the power of words. Her audience consists of writers and non-writers who want to experience art through words.

Teachers of writing value Lucy Calkins’ books. However, different titles speak to vastly unique audiences. Lessons from a Child follows an elementary student’s exploration with language and provides lessons that support the growth of elementary children. Her second text, The Art of Teaching Writing, focuses on the craft of establishing a functioning writing workshop in the classroom. Both illustrate how teachers present lessons and how students produce writing under the tutelage of an expert, but the approach differs in presentation. The first reads like a story and the second more like a textbook.

Experienced writers, though they would find pleasure and power in any of the titles listed, would explore the words of professionals in their field who share wisdom about writing: Peter Elbow, Donald Murray, E.B. White, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, or Steven Spielberg — just a few of the many who share the mystery behind their talents.

Writers must answer the question, “What does the audience know about the subject and what does the audience need to know?”

Activity for understanding

A valuable activity to reinforce the necessity of identifying audience would be to browse the magazine shelf at a bookstore. Find a category and explore the many types of publications available. Each journal attracts different personalities and fulfill a variety of interests. Examine the list below of magazines for car enthusiasts. Each address a similar topic but a different audience.

  • Popular Mechanics
  • Classic Car
  • Muscle Machines
  • Hotrod
  • Motorsports
  • Cars Report Price Guide
  • Collectible Automobile

As the wife of a car buff who worked for years in a dealership, taught automotive technology to high school students for 30 years, raced at the local drag strip, restores classic cars and is a regular at car shows, each of these journals can be found in our home. But each serves a different purpose and fits a different interest of my husband.

Questions writers should consider

Before beginning to draft, an audience should be defined so that the voice, style, and content address their needs. Sometimes, the simplest revisions can improve a document. Think about that teacher who held immense knowledge on a subject but remained incapable of explaining the curricular in a manner manageable for students. Reflect back to the relative who spoke to you like a child — at your wedding. Have you ever heard someone tell a joke at a solemn event? These are all examples of a lack of audience awareness.

There are several criteria to determine the appropriate audience. Once identified, it becomes the writer’s responsibility to present material in a manner that is approachable and understandable for the reader.

What is known about the reader?

Prior to writing, investigate what is known about the targeted readers. By answering these simple questions, a writer can focus the material and then publish it to an audience for maximum engagement.

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Interests
  • Ability level
  • Expectations
  • Background

How can writers target audiences?

The number of words, the vocabulary, and the content all influence the readability of written material. Several readability checkers are available online that analyze text and provide feedback. Simply by pasting a sample of the writing into a program, feedback will be provided on the number of sentences, words, syllables, and accessibility.

Visuals

  • Pictures captivate young children and inform adults. Sometimes they enhance enjoyment while other times they influence understanding.
  • Graphs and charts help organize ideas and present them in a manner that is easier to comprehend. Typically, they help visualize the relationship of data and allow information to be more consumable.
  • Examples provide samples of material to increase understanding. For instance to demonstrate the value of revision, examples of the first draft and final can be included to demonstrate changes.

Voice and style

Depending upon the purpose, the voice and style can be modified. If the goal is to promote humor, satire, sarcasm, or personal experiences might serve the purpose. When the author is teaching, an instructional style will fill the need. The power of persuasion is enhanced through the use figurative language with techniques such as similes, metaphors, or alliteration.

Format

The genre dictates the format while influencing the audience. Novels are consumed as means of escape, to live vicariously. So, they are formatted in longer chapters. How-to-articles provide readers with shorter paragraphs that are easier to consume. Headings divide information into manageable segments and work with material that is technical.

As a writer, think about the characteristics of the material you read. What helps you concentrate? What makes you smile? When do you put the book down? What inspires you to continue reading? Examine what works and use that information to create text that hooks readers.

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