WriteCast Episode 6: All About Audience
© Walden University Writing Center 2014
BRITTANY: If you think more broadly about audience, it helps you actually write a clearer argument.
NIK: Welcome to WriteCast, a casual conversation for serious writers. I’m Nikolas Nadeau.
BRITTANY: And I’m Brittany Kallman Arneson.
NIK: In this episode, we’re talking about audience. In other words: Your readers. Who are they? Why do you need to think about them?
BRITTANY: Thinking about your audience is important for all academic writers, whether you’re working on a discussion post or a dissertation. Today, though, we’ll be talking about audience specifically in terms of course papers.
NIK: So the first question to ask, Brittany, is: What is audience?
BRITTANY: I think a lot of times when we’re in a course, we think practically about our audience, right? Who, literally, is going to be reading this paper? Well, my instructor, and maybe a classmate or two if peer-review is built into your course. But you want to think beyond that practical audience to what we call a hypothetical audience or a hypothetical reader. And this is really important for you to think through the context of what it is that you’re writing. It’s good practice (a) for when you are eventually writing something to be published and (b) if you think more broadly about audience, it helps you actually write a clearer paper, a clearer argument. And context is something that’s often missing when students assume that only their instructor is going to be reading their work.
NIK: Right, and I think it’s really important to note the difference between your intended reader and your unintended reader. So, obviously, as you’re writing a course paper, you might not think, okay, well this is going to be published on Academic Search Premier and the entire world is going to see it--because of course not, it’s--you’re just writing an assignment for a particular instructor. But we suggest that you actually do write as if your work was going to be published, because keep in mind that there are potential readers that you aren’t necessarily aware of. And if you bring this into practice, you know, writing any kind of paper for any course with the notion that other people around the world might just see it, that can be a really key breakthrough point to simply allow you to develop ideas in a way that gives context. So, for example, you might need to consider who your primary readers are. Brittany, who do you think, normally, the primary readers would be for a course paper?
BRITTANY: That’s a good question. The student might assume that primary readers are members of the course, but I think thinking beyond that, you might consider a group of people in your same field, for instance, as your primary readers--people who are studying the same information that you are. So, let’s say you’re writing a paper about healthcare. If you were writing for a primary audience of nurses, you could assume a certain amount of knowledge about some of the things that you’re talking about in your paper on the part of your reader. So you maybe wouldn’t need to go into as much depth defining certain terms or explaining how a hospital works, things like that. But, say you were writing about health care and the healthcare field, but you were going to be presenting this paper or submitting this paper to an audience who did not work in the healthcare field--let’s say parents, for instance, who maybe have sick children and they need to learn about the way that the healthcare system works. You would not assume the same amount of knowledge on the part of your reader if that was your primary audience. So that’s something to consider always when you’re writing, even a course paper. Who are the people who are primarily going to be consuming what it is that you’re writing, and what kind of knowledge can you assume on their part?
NIK: That’s precisely what I was going to say, Brittany--is background knowledge is key to really finding that balance between providing too little context and too much. Keep in mind that during this process, voice, language, the kinds of diction you have--all of that, too, is going to come into play.
BRITTANY: Yes, so, so far we’ve talked about trying to predict the kind of level of knowledge of your topic your reader might have depending on who your intended audience is, who that primary reader is. But it’s also really important to think about your audience in terms of what language you choose. I might use very different language and a different tone if I was writing a paper that I intended for a group of parents with sick children versus, you know, a group of doctors. I would think about what words I was using, if there was complex terminology that needed to be explained or if I could assume that the reader already knew what those terms meant. And I would also consider my tone. If I was writing for a group of doctors but I used a tone that was more appropriate for a group of parents, that group of doctors might feel really patronized, you know, they might get the sense that I was assuming that they knew less than they really did. And that might turn those readers off to my work, which I wouldn’t want, as a writer. And on the other side of that same coin, if I were writing with a tone that was more appropriate for a group of doctors but then I presented that paper to a group of parents, they wouldn’t understand what was going on. So I think it’s very important to choose language and tone based on this audience that you’ve chosen to target in your writing as well.
NIK: Right, and, let’s say we’re talking we’re talking about employee satisfaction, you know, how happy workers are at a particular company. And, you know, this kind of topic involves a lot of different factors. It involves how much they’re getting paid, what kind of benefits they have, and how easily they’re able to understand and access them. But we’re also talking about, probably, more intangible things like work environment, the level of competition or collaboration between colleagues, how direct or accommodating supervisors are. So this is just an example of where you really want to make sure that you’re specific. And what I mean by that is that if you’re just talking about in general, “oh well, employees at this company aren’t satisfied.” Well then, your readers are going to want to know, well why aren’t they satisfied? How are you measuring satisfaction? And what company is this, particularly? Where are they located? What do they do? How often do they do surveys or studies on their employee satisfaction? Your readers are going to want detail to address those questions, so anticipate what people might wonder so that they’re not left second-guessing.
BRITTANY: Right, and I also think it’s really important to think about your reader as being skeptical of the credibility of your statements and to anticipate the questions that they might ask about that credibility by including citations, by backing up your claims with evidence from scholarly sources. So, don’t assume that your reader is going to take your word for it. You want to be sure that you show them you have a broad base of research backing up what it is that you’re arguing and it’s not just your opinion--you have actually found this information in credible sources and you can point to those sources so that your skeptical reader can be convinced of whatever it is that you’re arguing.
So let’s review what we’ve talked about. This has been a lot of information about audience and obviously it’s a complex topic, but the main couple things that we really covered here were one, that it’s important to think of your readers in terms of the details they need to know and the voice you should use. So, if you think carefully about who it is that you’re writing to, you’ll include better context and your tone will be more focused on the reader that you expect to read your paper.
NIK: And also, read your paper as that skeptical reader, as that nagging in-law, in order to really anticipate the ideas that your readers might wonder themselves.
And remember that this podcast is just the beginning to exploring how you can keep audience in mind as you write. So the resource we have that might be very helpful for you is our audience page. And Brittany, can you give directions for how to access that webpage?
BRITTANY: If you go to our homepage, which is writing center dot Walden U dot E D U and click on the Undergrad tab at the top of the homepage, you’ll see a left-hand sidebar come up on that page. And if you look on the sidebar you’ll see a link called Audience which is under the section Writing Guidelines. And that will take you to some resources that expand on some of the things that we talked about today about audience. And there’s also a really helpful exercise there that helps you think about writing for different audiences.
NIK: And in our next episode--we’re really excited--we’ll be sitting down with Amy Kubista who is an EdD student here at Walden and she’s also the manager of Writing Instructional Services here at the Writing Center. We’ll be talking to Amy about how she manages her own writing schedule and also how she strives for that balance between work and life and academics. So look for this episode to air in mid-March.
BRITTANY: Thanks so much for listening, and I hope you can join us for our next episode.
NIK: This podcast is a production of the Walden University Writing Center.
BRITTANY: This episode was produced by me, Brittany Kallman Arneson, my co-host, Nikolas Nadeau, and Anne Shiell.