Course Content
Chapter 3: Writing Mechanics Help
Chapter 12: Teaching Writing
Chapter 23: Teaching Reading
College English Composition: Help and Review
About Lesson

Determining the Best Audience

What is an audience? The audience is the reader of the essay. While anyone that reads an essay can be considered a part of the audience, the target audience is the group of readers the essay was intended to reach.

When it comes to determining the best, or most appropriate, audience for an essay, imagine yourself as a travel consultant. There may be many people that come to you wanting to schedule a cruise vacation. It is important for you to know exactly what group each cruise line caters toward to ensure you are booking your customers on the best vessel to reach their needs and expectations. A young couple going on their honeymoon probably wouldn’t be expecting to be booked on a vessel geared toward small children with dancing characters, cartoons playing on all the television stations, and the signature drink being flavors of milkshakes. I am also pretty sure you wouldn’t book an elderly couple on a spring break cruise catering to fraternity toga parties.

Why is Audience Important?

Why is audience important? It is important to identify the intended and most appropriate audience for a piece in order to put the writing in the proper context. For instance, imagine if someone purchased the book Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss as a cookbook for a budding chef – there is a focus on food, right? It is understood that although the topic of food is a running theme throughout Green Eggs and Ham, the target audience is young children just learning to read, not the five-star chef at your favorite restaurant.

It is difficult to accurately critique writing without understanding the intended audience of the piece. In the same way it would be wrong for me to deem a cruise bad simply because they catered to their target customer base, which I wasn’t a part of. This is not to say works of writing can’t be read, understood, or appreciated by individuals that fall outside of the intended audience. It just means, when we are evaluating a piece, we should keep in mind who the piece was mostly likely written to in terms of target audience.

Clues to Identifying Your Audience

There are several clues within the writing of a piece that help us determine the most appropriate audience. Let’s continue with our cruise vacation theme as we review these clues: ‘Sophisticated Elegance’ versus ‘Awesome Gaming Fun’. Word choice in the piece is going to be your best clue to who the intended audience is in a work. Let’s take, for instance, the following paragraph found on one website:

‘Volcanology research focuses on assessment and mitigation of volcanic hazards, the composition of volcanic gases through direct sampling methods and remote sensing, continental scientific drilling, geothermal energy, volcanogenic mineral deposits, pyroclastic deposits, and the disposal of chemical and nuclear waste in volcanic materials.’

Let’s contrast that with this paragraph:

‘To be prepared to study geology at a university or college, students must take math and science classes when they are in high school and even in junior high school. It seems unfair, but it is true, that how much you learn when you are in grade school and high school usually determines what you will be able to do during the rest of your life. If you want to become a volcanologist, you must concentrate on your classes, even if other kids seem to spend all their time with sports or dating or other pastimes. Don’t be a nerd; enjoy life, but also be serious about your studies!’

Both of these paragraphs deal with the research and studies necessary to become a volcanologist. Both of these paragraphs are aimed at students. However, we can pretty easily detect that the first paragraph was intended for graduate students who plan on studying in a volcanology or geology department, while the second paragraph is aimed at middle school and high school students just finding out there is an actual field where people get to study volcanoes for a living. We know this because of the words used in each paragraph. Not many high school students understand concepts such as remote sensing or continental scientific drilling, and most graduate geology students aren’t worried about their friends spending more time dating. So while each paragraph was found on college websites describing various aspects of the same field, they were clearly written to very different student audiences.

Back to our role as travel agents. The length of a cruise can also tell us a bit about the intended audience. Not many families with young children or college students look to take 10-, 15-, or even 30-day cruise vacations. The same can be said for the length of an essay or other piece of writing. The longer the piece, the more intimately familiar with a topic the intended audience is expected to be. It would be quite intimidating to have your first introduction to a topic be a 10,000-word essay on the subject. Included in length is also the level of detail. For a novice audience with the subject, there will most likely be short introductions to new information. For pieces with an intended audience more familiar with the subject, there will be more dense levels of detail that go much deeper into subject matter.

Another clue in our travel adventure is the overall look and design. A cruise ship touting priceless china and baby grand pianos in each stateroom is probably looking for a different clientele than one that posts pictures of foam parties at the main pool each night. The same is true with a work of writing: the design of the piece is going to lend valuable clues to the intended audience.

Lesson Summary

In conclusion, in this video, we covered what an audience and an intended audience are when it comes to a work of writing. We also covered why knowing the intended audience is important, and we found clues that help us determine the intended audience of a piece: word choice, length, and overall look and design. By being able to identify and interpret clues within an essay, you will be well on your way to easily establishing the intended audience for any piece you encounter.

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