Your audience is the readers for which you're writing. In a university context, this technically means your professor, but it also extends to other readers who exist outside of the classroom structure. Thinking about these hypothetical readers can help you provide important background information. Ask yourself, what does someone need to know about this topic first, before getting specific details? This background, placed in the introduction, can then prepare the reader for the rest of your paper.
Perhaps the hardest part of writing for an audience is determining the most appropriate voice. Voice includes the words you use and the tone created by those words. In academic writing, you should strive for a formal, professional voice by choosing words carefully and maintaining distance from the reader.
Your writing will change based on the audience. In some writing situations, for instance, you might find that it is more appropriate to be casual. This exercise is meant to teach you how to mold your voice, word choice, and details to any audience.
Exercise: Write a paragraph about your day.
Here is one example:
Today is Valentine's Day. Though I wanted to have a day free of stress and obligations, I slept in until 9 a.m., so I had to rush to get ready for work. As I sat in my office typing, I felt the warm sun through the window on my severely dry winter skin. My husband and I shopped for food and attended a cheese tasting before relaxing on the couch with a movie. To satisfy my sweet tooth, I ended the day with an ice cream sandwich and some hot chocolate.
It is a pretty simple explanation of a day (which just happened to be a fun holiday). But who is the audience? Who is the writer communicating with and writing for? It could be anyone.
Once you have written that main paragraph about your day without thinking about the audience, rewrite it in five new and different ways:
- As an email to your best friend
- As a status update on Facebook
- As an entry in your journal or diary
- As a discussion post introducing yourself to classmates
- As a bio for a professional conference
Read over your five new paragraphs. Did you find yourself adjusting tone, level of intimacy, word choice, and detail for each task? You should have. Each task represents a different relationship between writer (you) and audience--and with that relationship come expectations of conduct. Let's break each audience down:
- For the email to a good friend, your writing is likely casual in nature. You might not even read over your work to find spelling errors. You might abbreviate words, use slang and inside jokes, and reveal more personal details than in the original version. There is an expectation of privacy between email sender and recipient, which leads to an intimate tone.
- Your status update will be seen by a lot of people; who those people are is dependent on your settings, but they could be any Facebook user. That means there is no expectation of privacy, so the tone is likely less intimate than the email. However, the writing is still casual and conversational because Facebook is a relaxed social site. Because a status update is meant to be relatively short, you might not use complete sentences or give the full description of the day.
- When writing in your diary, you can be as free and intimate with details as you want; after all, you will be the only one reading it (hopefully). The difference between this and an email is that you might not have to supply as much background information. For example, you already know that you like sweets, so you do not have to explain why you wanted the hot chocolate.
- A discussion board might at first seem like a casual environment: people are conversing through question and response. However, because the board is part of a course in a university, there are expectations of formality and etiquette. Also, the post is meant to be an introduction to strangers, so you might name your hobbies and career but leave out more personal details about how you spent the day. How you present yourself in the discussion board is how fellow students will see you for the rest of the term.
- For a professional conference, your bio should be formal and straightforward. After writing for this scenario, you should check spelling and grammar so that you are presenting yourself in the most polished way. To build your credibility as a speaker or panelist, the bio should list career highlights, academic credentials, and publications rather than likes and dislikes or how you typically spend your day. In this version, there should be no slang or intimate details.
Keep 4 and 5 in mind as you complete your coursework at Walden and develop your voice for an educated, professional audience.