Okay. You are struggling once again with a paper that your instructor has assigned you. You are not sure how to go about writing this paper. How much do you put in? How much detail should you go into? One thing that will help you with the tone and depth of your paper is to consider who would read your paper.
Audience is one element of writing that is overlooked by students and sometimes instructors. If you begin to think about who would read your paper, you will be able to focus on the elements that should go into it.
When I teach my literature classes, I ask my students who goes to see a movie in the theater at least once a year? Most students raise their hands. Then I ask them how they talk with their friends about the movie they have just seen together. I get blank looks, so I ask more specific questions.
- Do you describe every scene to your friend?
- No. That would be insulting. We just saw the movie together.
- Do you refer to parts that you particularly liked or didn’t like?
- Yes, I do.
- I say something like, “Remember the scene where the guy jumped the bridge in that car? No way would that happen in real life.”
- So when you discuss the movie, you take into account who you are speaking to?
- All of them nod their heads in agreement.
Audience matters when you write. You have to decide how much does the audience know about the topic as well as how much they understand the terms particular the topic you are writing about.
In terms of analyzing literature, yes, the students are writing for me. After all, I assign the essays and grade them. But I also want them to think about what the reader brings to the essay before he even begins to read it. I tell them to make some assumptions about the reader:
- The reader already knows the story you are discussing, so do not retell the entire story.
- The reader already knows the literary terms you are using, so do not define each terms as you use it.
- The reader knows the story, so you can just refer to a particular scene or character when describing its importance in your essay.
When I go over those questions and more, my students start writing better essays because they understand who they are writing for. They can imagine what they need to describe and what they simply need to refer to. It works for any type of academic essay.
If a nursing student is writing a paper about the importance of sanitizing equipment to prevent the spread of infection, that student can make certain assumptions about the audience. She is writing for the instructor, but she should also see what level of detail she needs in her paper. There is nothing wrong in asking the instructor whether she needs to describe and define each scientific term or whether she can assume that the reader has that knowledge, so she can simply go into the importance of sanitizing and the research that has been done regarding the spread of infection.
If a business student needs to create a business plan for her class, she should find out if the business plan should be written as if she is submitting it to a bank for financing or for a reader who knows nothing about business plans. Knowing the level of detail required for the plan will tell the student what needs to be defined and what can be assumed about the audience’s knowledge.
If you take the audience you are writing for into account and try to imagine who they are, you will be able to determine how formal to make your paper, what terms you need to define and what you can assume your audience knows, and how much you need to explain key concepts you plan to cover in your paper.
Think about your audience, and you will find it easier to write your paper.