Writing tip: Audience Awareness II

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By: 
Theresa Bell

In a previous writing tip on Audience awareness, I addressed how keeping the audience in mind is critically important when deciding the content, structure, tone, and style of a work. There’s another aspect of audience awareness that also comes under consideration, whether it’s for a written work, presentation, or any other kind of communication, and that’s balancing the content the communicator wants to provide with the expectations of the audience. When I think of this balance, I think of a balanced teeter totter:

For example, when a presenter is creating the framework for an oral presentation, the presenter has to consider more than just the content he or she wants to share with the audience. The presenter is going to enter that room with a desire to share information, but the audience will also attend with an expectation of what information they’ll receive. The presenter’s job is to anticipate the audience’s expectations so that the content both satisfies the presenter’s desire to share as well as the audience’s points of interest. If the presenter weighs the communication too heavily with content but doesn't address the audience's expectations, the presentation will be off balance.

The importance of accommodating both the author’s and the audience’s needs is also present in writing. For student authors, this balance can be tricky because they can be tempted to use writing to demonstrate a breadth of reading. That is, to treat an essay as an opportunity to insert as many details as possible in every nook and cranny of the writing to show that the author has read extensively. There may be instances where such an approach is appropriate, such as when writing a literature review; however, in a typical essay, students run the risk of ignoring their instructor’s expectations for the work. Typically, instructors assume that students have done the assigned reading(s), and the essay isn’t merely a demonstration of how broadly the student has read. Rather, an essay is an opportunity for a student to put the information to use in a way that demonstrates the student’s understanding of the topic. In other words, an essay isn’t just an information dump; instead, instructors are looking for students to use the information to show they understand the materials, they can choose the most appropriate information to support the analysis of their topic, and they can structure the information appropriately to create a convincing argument.

There are lots of other applications for this approach to managing content and expectations e.g., meetings or job interviews. The key thing to remember is that communication isn’t only about pushing out information; effective communication also involves anticipating and meeting the expectations of the intended audience.

Do you have questions about this writing tip or any other writing matter? Please contact the Writing Centre as we’d be pleased to assist you.

Theresa Bell
Writing Centre Manager