Targeting Your Audience

No matter what the writing project, you should plan to write to someone—that is, you should target an audience for your writing assignment. Audience analysis is crucial to understanding what should go into each piece of writing. You should consider your audience's needs in your research; your content; the background information you provide; your tone, style, and wording; and the frequency with which you define terminology. Analyzing your audience will help you make the necessary decisions about what you will write.

Many students assume that the teacher is the primary audience for the writing. Although your teacher may be your audience for an essay, he or she may also expect you to write for your classmates or others in your field of study.

In addition to knowing who your audience is, you need to understand your purpose for writing. Writers always have a specific reason for writing, and purpose includes what the author intends to accomplish in the writing and how the author wants the reader to use the information. Purpose bridges the gap between audience and content, linking them inextricably to you, the writer.

Your purpose is not the same as your writing strategy. To analyze some concept is not, by itself, very interesting or meaningful. But to analyze a concept to look closely at its various parts so that you may gain new insight into what it means has both strength of purpose and meaning for the reader. In college writing, your purpose for writing is usually to explain something to your readers or to convince them of your way of thinking.

If you are unsure who the target audience is, discuss the issue with your teacher. Also, be aware of key words on your assignment sheet that will help you identify the intended audience, e.g., Write an analysis for others in your field, or Describe to the class.

To develop an audience profile, you need specific information about your audience, information about its understanding of and attitude toward your subject. Your teacher may guide you in learning what questions to ask to get the necessary information to profile your audience, or you may develop this list yourself. The following list, although not exhaustive, can help you do that. Be aware that your teacher or your particular writing assignment may require more information about your audience.

After you determine the nature of your audience and your purpose, you must determine how this information affects your planning and writing decisions. For example, the audience profile will tell you the following:

Some students prefer to answer these questions before they begin to write. Other students begin planning the writing and answer these questions later. Actually, this series of planning activities includes prewriting activities and perhaps some research. The goal of this phase of the writing process is to determine the scope of your writing project and to prepare to write your first draft.

We will now describe several prewriting techniques to help you get started.