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CHAPTER TWO – Having a Reader and a Reason: Understanding Audience
OBJECTIVES: Following Chapter Two, students should . . .
know that all effective writing has a clear purpose and audience
be able to identify both the purpose of essays and the primary intended audience
be able to distinguish between purpose and method of achieving purpose
write separate paragraphs or essays that inform, entertain, and persuade
identify purpose and audience in others’ writing
With persistence and effort, we can teach our students to write a paragraph or an essay with
correct grammar and structure, and there is no substitute for that basis. However, that
accomplishment doesn’t mean the students are effective writers. They must learn a great deal
more, and the most challenging task for the instructor might be to communicate the critical
concepts of audience and purpose.
We can succeed in conveying the ideas of informing, entertaining, and persuading, but, as types
of writing, those words identify a broad view of the purpose and the means of achieving purpose.
It helps to insist that our students express a complete idea when they state a purpose for writing.
Instead of saying, “My purpose is to (inform, entertain, persuade),” they should always complete
the intent. In your text, College Writing Resources, you will see the example about persuading a
boss to increase salary. In this case, the student should express his or her purpose as, “My
purpose is to persuade my boss to give me a raise.” He or she will be stating both purpose and
audience. This simple recommendation will eliminate some vagueness and bring clarity to a few
students in every class.
Audience is a little harder for students to visualize because it is so closely associated with
purpose, though a distinctly different concept. However, the introduction on page sixteen of
College Writing Resources is appropriate and effective to get them underway. Students will
instantly visualize the different outfits they might wear in order to appeal to “audiences” in
On an immediate level, we instructors will read the essays our students write, but they need to go
beyond that fact and address a different audience – a specific audience besides the instructor.
Perhaps it will not seem realistic to them when we say that while we instructors read and
evaluate their writing, they should always try to write for someone or some group away from the
classroom, and they should identify that person or group. As in so many other areas, when they
write it on paper, it will become concrete, absolute, and they will be more successful in
addressing their chosen audience.
One workable method is to ask them to make a list of things they read on a more or less regular
basis, either print or online: newspapers, magazines, even comics or books. Then ask them to
visualize the audience, or the readership, of various sources, and mention one source each to the
class. The reader of Tiger Beat will (probably) not be quite the same person as one who regularly
reads Golf Digest. It’s just one method of getting students to think of varied audiences. It is okay
for them to think of friends, family, little kids, or instructors as reading audiences, but if they
think only of people whom they know, the differences won’t be apparent in the same way.
Some students are not regular readers of anything, but they can still visualize a specific audience
to address. Suppose a student wishes to write a persuasive essay about the way police officers
treat suspected criminals: won’t they write with more precision, with direct, clear purpose, when
they’re addressing Ice T on Law and Order instead of thinking only of their instructor in
English? They won’t use his name in the paper itself unless they’re writing essays in the form of
letters, but if they have the character in mind, that will work.
IDENTIFYING THE AUDIENCE
Exercise 1 is excellent. Students may also be asked to bring to class an article from a newspaper
for which they can identify the intended audience in some way more specific than “general
audience.” The effort will not be difficult, but, considering the more general audience appeal
made by newspaper writers, it should be a little more challenging than using a magazine, whose
primary audience is often identifiable by the title alone.
When they write paragraphs for addressing specific audiences, some will be enlightened by an
effort to write the same paragraph for distinctly different audiences. Curiously, however, in an
assignment to write the same basic essay for three different audiences, some students will present
almost the same thing for all three. Maybe they don’t quite get it yet – or maybe they don’t have
sufficient interest or energy – but maybe they will get it, and have enough interest and energy, if
they choose a worthwhile purpose and select their specific and appropriate audience from a
familiar television program.
WRITING TO ENTERTAIN
Sometimes we write to bring a little laughter into the day for a friend or relative. Most of the
time, however, writing for entertainment has a deeper purpose than the entertainment itself. As
our text author Ms. Long mentions, one reaction which entertainment writing might be designed
to elicit is anger. Students should find that idea intriguing; in what sort of situation would anger
be a goal in an essay for entertainment? We know, of course, that it’s quite common, but the
perfect example, which some will have read in high school or another college class, is Jonathan
Swift’s satiric essay “A Modest Proposal.” So, once again, while the method of achieving the
purpose was to entertain readers, the purpose was to shake up the audiences (Swift had several
different audiences, or targets, in mind) and push them into recognizing their responsibilities and
taking action to change the lives of the poor.
Student writers can have fun with this exercise as they contemplate the interesting and frequently
disturbing experience of watching people eat. One speech instructor had each of her students
“break the ice” by standing before the class and eating a few bites of an unpeeled apple. A
moment’s contemplation will explain why she chose that particular food.
This productive exercise is an excellent example of the hand-in-glove relationships between the
ideas of purpose and audience, in spite of the differing characteristics. The boss who is being
asked for a raise will have a distinctive personality to those who know him or her well. Most
students either have or have had jobs, and “persuading” their bosses to raise salaries may require
distinctly different audience appeals. Some will respond better to emotional appeals while some
will reject an emotional appeal that is acceptable in other ways.
If the students have had more than one job each, contemplation of writing the same request for a
raise to both bosses will solidify that sometimes troublesome understanding of audience. This
exercise is also effective for causing the students to recognize the importance of writing
deliberately. If it can be done, it will be terrifically enlightening for students to read a collection
of actual letters to employers (with names concealed, of course). In a couple of experiments of
this kind, the students easily recognized that several of those letter-writers clearly failed to
address their actual audiences and wrote bland, self-focused letters that would not have been
effective with any employer. An additional “benefit” of the experiments was for students to see
that some letters were nicely presented, while others were careless in appearance and other letterwriting conventions.
ANSWERS TO LAB ACTIVITY 2
My Point: My neighborhood is a very pleasant place to live.
Detail 1: The boundaries of my neighborhood are clearly established.
Detail 2: All the families in the neighborhood seem friendly and helpful.
Detail 3: My neighborhood has a number of young men and women about my age.
Detail 4: It’s only about half a mile from my neighborhood to a terrific mall.
Detail 5: One neighbor has a big pool; another actually has a tennis court; everyone shares.
The neighborhood where I live is quiet and peaceful because it is surrounded by natural
boundaries; a clean, clear river curves around half the neighborhood; across the street in the
“front” area is an open field, and the third boundary is a block of office buildings.
The yards are big, and there are several people about my age; one neighbor has a huge swimming
pool; another has a tennis court, and yet another has a kind of gym in back of the house.
Everyone has something that can be shared, and, since most of the neighbors are quite friendly,
we have gotten along without any real problems for several years. And, in case anyone should
want to get away, there’s a great mall only a few blocks down the street.
My point: When traffic laws are not enforced, everyone is exposed to more danger.
1. Many drivers ignore the stop sign on the corner of Pine Drive and Highway 67.
2. A young boy was seriously injured by a speeding driver just a few months ago.
3. Young people imitate what they see older people doing.
4. There’s no justifiable reason for anyone to be in such a rush.
5. No driver has a right to carelessly put anyone else at risk.
The traffic laws in Springfield must be more strictly enforced. It is dangerous to drive in
our town nowadays; just a few months ago Freddie Riccola, who is only twelve years old, was
severely injured by a speeding driver. Freddie is struggling to learn to walk again today, and that
same driver continues to speed down the same streets as he did before.
Every driver has some responsibility for youngsters who are dreaming of getting their
first drivers’ licenses. Those youngsters will imitate what they see their elders doing. In
Springfield, that means they will drive too fast, since so many adults routinely exceed the speed
limit without any real penalties.
It is unlikely that anyone ever has any justifiable reason to exceed the speed limit in
Springfield; drivers apparently just do it because they can get away with it. Something must be
done. The traffic laws must be more strictly enforced. Until the laws are enforced, speeding
drivers with little apparent sense of responsibility will go on putting the rest of us in danger.
1. We will clean up completely after we are finished
2. Our club is an official college-sponsored organization.
3. We have used the dining hall for this event with permission every year for the past six years.
4. In return for use of the dining hall, our club has volunteered to work in the college fundraising campaign.
5. I am writing well before the event so we can choose a date when the dining hall can be
Our club, an official college-sponsored organization, asks your permission to use the dining hall
for an officer installation ceremony. We have been permitted to use the hall for this event for the
past six years.
I am writing well before the event, so we can choose a date when the dining hall can be
available. If we are permitted to use the hall again this year, the club members will clean up
completely after we are finished, and we will also volunteer to work in the fund-raising