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University of Houston - Victoria
Define the Purpose, Consider the Audience and Develop the Thesis

Consider the Audience

Whatever your purpose, you will be writing to a specific audience. You not only must understand your audience but also keep this audience in mind at all times as you draft your paper. Many times your audience will be dictated to you by your instructor or workplace situation; other times you will get to choose an audience. In either case, you’ll have to understand and then adapt your writing to that audience.

Understanding the audience can be fairly easy or rather difficult depending on what you already know about them. Indeed, you may have to do some primary or secondary research to learn more about your audience. The best way to see what you know and what you need to know about your audience is to ask yourself some questions about your relationship to the audience and the audience’s relationship to your topic.

 

Me & My Audience

  • Does my audience know me personally? Would they identify me as a “type” of person (i.e., college student)?
  • Can I identify my audience as a “type”?
  • How large is my audience?
  • Can I claim any shared experiences, characteristics, attitudes, values, or prejudices with my audience? (i.e., nationality, culture, gender)
  • Do my audience and I have any differences that would present barriers to communication?

My Audience & Its Relationship to My Topic

  • What does my audience know about my topic?
  • What does my audience need (or not need) to know about my topic?
  • How “close” is my audience to my topic? (emotionally, geographically, culturally)
  • Does my audience have any expectations concerning formality of language?
  • What does my audience expect as far as the format of the final document?
  • How will my audience use the final document?

Essentially, as you think about audience, ask yourself, “how will reading my paper change or affect how my audience thinks, feels, or understands my topic?” The answers to these questions will condition your approach to your audience.

Now that you’re beginning to understand your audience, let’s look at some ways you can adapt your writing to your specific audience. Adapting your writing to your specific audience makes your writing very reader-friendly, since you’ve made careful decisions for your audience about everything from organization to formality in language. Again, you need to answer some questions so you can make decisions on how to best adapt your writing to your audience

  • What organizational strategies is my audience accustomed to? or How can I best organize my paper for my audience? Generally, you will provide clues to the audience to guide them through your discussion. These cues help to reveal your organizational strategy and could be either verbal or visual. Examples of clues may include your introduction, thesis, topic sentences, punctuation, and transitions.
  • What content will be most relevant to my audience? You want to provide material that is the most relevant to your audience. For example, in a paper that persuades early childhood majors to include activities for kinesthetic learners in the classroom, a history of the study of learning styles would not be relevant, but an anecdote about a student whose grades went from F’s to B’s because a teacher included kinesthetic activities might be.
  • How would my audience respond to my argument? Generally, when readers read they “guess” at what you will say next and try to make connections with what you’ve said so far. Your goal is to structure your paper so that your audience will easily understand your points. Additionally, you may need to consider how you will handle a hostile, angry, or emotional audience. What can you say, how should you say it, and what proof can you provide to this audience to make your points understandable to it?

Understanding your purpose and audience will help you write an effective thesis. These two factors get you thinking about what your audience needs to know about your topic and why they need the information you’re going to present.