Audience Considerations for ESL Writers: Introduction
Audience is an important component of writing. Whether you compose a paper for your class, submit a professional resume, or simply send an email, you most likely imagine how your document will be received. Audience can be defined as a person or people who read(s) your paper, in other words, your reader(s). It is important to know who your audience is because it influences the content and the style of your writing.
Types of Writing and Audience
Here are some examples that show the written genres that you will most likely encounter in college or in your career and the audience that is typically associated with each of these genres.
- University Library Report: College students
- Resume/CV/Cover letter: Potential employer
- Book Review: Professionals from your field of study
- Annotated Bibliography: Professor, readers of an academic journal
- Memoir: Your classmates, peers, members of your family, readers of a magazine
You probably noticed that the audience is somewhat predetermined by the type of writing you produce, and vice versa, your readers influence your choice of a genre. In other words, you will not likely submit your memoir to an academic journal read by professionals and scholars. Similarly, an administrator of an engineering company, in which you wish to get a job, will not be interested in receiving a book review from you.
Writing for a North American Academic Audience
Most of your writing assignments in college will consist of academic papers that you will write for your classes. Therefore, your primary audience in college is your professors. While each of your professors will require a set of his or her own expectations that you will need to follow as you work on your papers, there are also a number of common characteristics of American academic writing that you need to be aware of. These characteristics are most likely different from the writing conventions in your native language; therefore, they may be somewhat difficult to grasp. Academic writing in an American fashion is usually defined as linear and thesis-‐driven. This part of the resource will help you become familiar with these basic features.
American academic essays have a linear structure
Writing in academic settings in North America, you are expected to clearly indicate the most important points of your essay in the introduction of your paper, as well as explain how these ideas are going to be developed (e.g., comparing and contrasting, classifying, describing cause and effect relationships). Then, the rest of your paper will basically provide support for these main points, forming what is called body paragraphs of your essay. This support may include: facts, statistics, personal experiences, examples from literary sources, quotes, and so forth. Whereas this main part of your paper will vary based on the rhetorical organization, its primary goal always stays the same: to explain and support the main ideas indicated in the introduction. Finally, the last section of your paper, called conclusion, needs to summarize the main points developed in the body paragraphs and provide a logical closure to your paper. In the conclusion, some authors also like to express their personal opinion on the topic, provide a solution (if appropriate), and give some advice to the reader.
This three-‐section essay structure constitutes what is called linear organization of American academic writing. As mentioned earlier, it may be very different from the writing approaches that you utilized in your native language back home. In fact, some of your instructors will be familiar with the organizational patterns that you used in your native language. But even in that case, they will still require that you follow the conventions of American academic writing.
North American academic writing is thesis-driven
The introduction of your paper needs to contain the main ideas that you will later develop in the body of your essay. The main ideas are normally summarized in one sentence that is called thesis statement. Think of thesis statement as a one-‐sentence summary of your whole paper, or sort of a snapshot. American audience always expects to see this snapshot at the beginning of the paper (they don’t like to be surprised, nor do they like to guess what it is that the author is going to talk about); therefore, you will do them a huge favor and save them from unnecessary frustration by placing your thesis statement in the introduction of your paper.
KEEP AS DRAFT
Stance and Language
Stance can be defined as the attitude that the writer has towards the topic of his or her message. The stance that you take will greatly determine the tone of your message and the words that you choose. Notice, for example, how the authors in the following examples describe the same event that they attended. Their impressions of the event were very different, and it is reflected in the stance that they took.
Once we got to the food section of the event, I immediately realized that there was little to no organization. There was trash all over the place, with no trashcan in sight. There was a serious lack of tables to eat at, so many people were forced to eat standing up, which got really messy because of the nature of some of the foods. Many of the organizations that were selling the foods apparently didn’t talk to each other, because I saw many of the same kinds of rice, fish, even bread at the different tables.
Furthermore, many of the dishes were either cold or too little. And of all the tables, only one group also thought of bringing the drinks, so getting a drink meant standing in line for half an hour, mainly because they kept running out because of the high demand.
Almost all Asian student organizations have participated in this event. There were plenty of foods from different Asian countries and areas. Fried rice from China, spring rolls
from Vietnam, curries fish ball from Hong Kong and chicken from Singapore. Though these foods are not exactly like they would be tasted like in real Asia, these still give you a basic idea about how are Asian food look and taste like and how large is the diversity of Asian food. Among so many choices of foods, I definitely will recommend the curry fish ball from Hong Kong Student Association. It tastes exactly like what you would taste in Hong Kong, so it might be the most original taste of Asia.
So in relation to your audience, think about the following questions when you are trying to determine what stance to take: How do you want to be perceived by your reader(s)? Opinionated or neutral? Passionate or indifferent? Biased or objective?
Critical or fair? What is your relationship with the audience that may affect your choice of stance?
Language largely depends on the type of the audience that will read your written work. Therefore, before you start writing, think about your readers. How much do you think they know about the topic you are going to write about? Would they understand the terminology you may use? If not, perhaps you need to provide definitions and additional explanations. On the other hand, if your readers have a good deal of knowledge about your topic, there may be no need for you to explain the concepts with which they may be familiar.
The language that you use will also depend on the relationships that you have with your audience. Are they your friends or classmates? Professors? Employers? Compare, for example, two emails written by the same student to a classmate and a professor:
Hey Chris, how’s it going? Did you have fun this weekend? Hey I won’t be in class tomorrow, I sorta feel sick. Could you stop by Dr. Johnson’s office and grab that book for me that we need for our project? I’d appreciate that.
Tone and Purpose
Along with the different language that you use depending on your reader, the tone of your writing should be appropriate for your audience as well. Your tone reflects your attitude towards the subject you are writing about and the readers you are writing to. For example, if you are composing an email to your professor, you cannot be rude, but you need to be polite and formal. You should use the language that shows your respect to the professor and his or her status.
In addition, you should also consider the context in which your audience will receive your message and use the appropriate tone accordingly. For instance, when submitting a scholarship application or a grant proposal you should remember that it will be reviewed by several readers in an academic setting.
The purpose of your written work should be clear to those who will read it. Ask yourself what it is that you want to communicate to your audience and check your draft to see if you achieved your goal. At the same time, you should also think about what you want your audience to take away from your written work. Do you want to raise their awareness of a certain issue? Do you want to engage them in the discussion? Is your purpose to provoke their thoughts on the problem you are addressing?
Medium and Design
The way you design your written work also depends on who is going to read it. If you are writing a lab report, it is appropriate and it may even be necessary to use charts and tables. Or if you are submitting a written course project or a portfolio, you need to think about how your audience will navigate the contents of your materials, so perhaps the table of contents could be quite helpful. Your audience may also determine the way(s) you will deliver your written work. Think about what media better fits the purpose of your message: oral presentation, electronic format, or print. You can also use a combination of media.
In short, when are communicating a written message, you should always keep in mind your audience. Consider the following list of questions as a checklist that will help you target your writing to a particular audience and construct your writing accordingly:
- Whom are you writing to?
- What is your audience’s life background? Are they educated? Do they have certain life experiences that may affect what and how you address them in your writing?
- Are they “insiders” (they are your professional peers or they are familiar with the area that you are describing) or “outsiders” to your topic (they are not familiar with the field you are writing in)?
- Are you aware of demographic characteristics of your readers (e.g., gender, race, age, sexual orientation, political views, religious beliefs, social and economic status, etc.)?
- What is your relationship with your audience? Are you friends with them? Are they your colleagues? Peers? Professors? Potential employers? Strangers? Your opponents?
- How do you think they will accept your message?
- What reaction are you expecting from your audience? Do you want them to make a decision, enter into a debate, or take some form of action?
- What do you think your audience expects from you and your message?
Although this list is not exhaustive, it will help you be aware of your audience, and it will also help you avoid violations that may occur as a result of a lack of knowledge or even ignorance about his or her readers.
Words Matter: How to Effectively Use Idioms, Slang, & Stock Phrases in Academic Writing
This workshop explains what idioms, slang, and stock phrases are and discusses how to use them in formal and informal contexts. Download the PowerPoint file by clicking the above link.
Please note that this workshop was developed as part of the Purdue Language and Culture Exchange (PLaCE) program for Purdue University's West Lafayette campus. PLaCE focuses on providing international students with additional linguistic and cultural support as the acclimate to the North American higher educational context.