Identifying an Audience
This handout provides detailed information about how to write research papers including discussing research papers as a genre, choosing topics, and finding sources.
Contributors:Jack Raymond Baker, Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2010-04-17 05:44:03
Identifying an Audience
The concept of audience can be very confusing for novice researchers. Should the student's audience be her instructor only, or should her paper attempt to reach a larger academic crowd? These are two extremes on the pendulum-course that is audience; the former is too narrow of an audience, while the latter is too broad. Therefore, it is important for the student to articulate an audience that falls somewhere in between.
It is perhaps helpful to approach the audience of a research paper in the same way one would when preparing for an oral presentation. Often, one changes her style, tone, diction, etc., when presenting to different audiences. So it is with writing a research paper (In fact, you may need to transform your written work into an oral work if you find yourself presenting at a conference someday).
The instructor should be considered only one member of the paper's audience; he is part of the academic audience that desires students to investigate, research, and evaluate a topic. Try to imagine an audience that would be interested in and benefit from your research.
For example: if the student is writing a twelve page research paper about ethanol and its importance as an energy source of the future, would she write with an audience of elementary students in mind? This would be unlikely. Instead, she would tailor her writing to be accessible to an audience of fellow engineers and perhaps to the scientific community in general. What is more, she would assume the audience to be at a certain educational level; therefore, she would not spend time in such a short research paper defining terms and concepts already familiar to those in the field. However, she should also avoid the type of esoteric discussion that condescends to her audience. Again, the student must articulate a middle-ground.
The following are questions that may help the student discern further her audience:
- Who is the general audience I want to reach?
- Who is most likely to be interested in the research I am doing?
- What is it about my topic that interests the general audience I have discerned?
- If the audience I am writing for is not particularly interested in my topic, what should I do to pique its interest?
- Will each member of the broadly conceived audience agree with what I have to say?
- If not (which will likely be the case!) what counter-arguments should I be prepared to answer?
Remember, one of the purposes of a research paper is to add something new to the academic community, and the first-time researcher should understand her role as an initiate into a particular community of scholars. As the student increases her involvement in the field, her understanding of her audience will grow as well. Once again, practice lies at the heart of the thing.