77 Identifying Your Audience and Readers

Imagining Your Audience’s Needs

Here are some common audiences for you to consider before you begin drafting an assignment (also see the “Audience” section in the “Determining Audience and Purpose” portion of this text):


One purpose for writing is to figure out what you think and believe before you share your ideas with other people. What do you want to say? What do you want to find out? What do you want to decide? Sometimes you will keep this type of writing private, but sometimes you may revise for another audience.

Your Instructor

It may seem obvious as a student that your instructor is part of your audience. Let’s take a moment to consider what expectations your instructor may have. You instructor may expect that

  • You have read any assigned material before writing. What do you need to write to show your instructor you have read this material?
  • You have understood the assignment given. To show this, pay particular attention to the verbs in the assignment. Are you doing the actions required? If the assignment says “analyze X,” have you done so? Do you understand what it means to analyze? (For more about verbs in assignments, see the Understanding Assignments handout from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Writing Center, writingcenter.unc.edu.)
  • If assigned, you have done research for your topic. To show your research, you will want to use summaries, paraphrasing, and quotations from your sources, using appropriate citation. (See the Drafting section for help with summarizingparaphrasing, and quoting, and see the “Crediting and Citing Your Sources” section for help with citations.)
  • You will use the assigned academic format, such as MLA (see the appendix titled “Resources for Working with MLA”). You will follow the instructions. Re-read the assignment to make sure you are following each step.
  • You will work hard on your assignment and spend time making it as good as possible, including spending considerable time proofreading and editing. Taking these steps shows that you are serious about your work, and that it is important enough for others to read.

Notice that fulfilling these expectations will also help you reach any other possible readers of your work.

Fellow Students

In writing classes, students often read each other’s work and give feedback. To meet the needs of this audience, consider what they know and don’t know about your topic. When you are writing outside of a classroom situation, you might consider an audience of fellow writers or others who are involved in your project, if any.

The “General” Reader

When instructors use the term “general reader,” what do they mean? If you are given an assignment that says your audience is “the general reader,” that usually means that you are expected to write to an audience with at least some college education who is aware of your topic, but not an expert on your topic. Newspapers, for example, write for a general reader, meaning that they expect a variety of people, from various backgrounds, to read the articles. That means you must consider viewpoints and experiences that do not mirror your own. When instructors talk about an academic audience, they usually mean that you must use evidence that is acceptable to a variety of educated people, using academic sources rather than popular sources, and that you will not state opinions without providing proof to support your view. Here are some questions to help you think about your topic:

What would a general reader know about your topic? What wouldn’t they know?

What kinds of evidence and reasons are acceptable to an audience that does not share the same background and beliefs as you?

What kinds of evidence and reason are acceptable in an academic community? Have you used academic sources? Are your sources credible? (For some guidance on finding credible sources see “Finding Quality Texts” in the Information Literacy section.)

A Target Audience

Sometimes you will have the opportunity to write for a specific group of people. For example, if you are writing about a problem in your community, such as the proposed location of a new composting facility, your audience would probably be the people in your community or perhaps local officials who have the power to make the decision about the location. If you are writing an email to your supervisor requesting a change in your work responsibilities, your audience is your supervisor–a specific person. When you know the audience, you can anticipate the kinds of reasoning and evidence that the audience will expect, and you will know what tone and level of formality is appropriate. If you don’t know your audience well, you may need to do some research or at the very least imagine what they are like based on educated guesses.

The Opposing Viewpoint

When you write an argument, one potential audience is the people who disagree with your opinion. To do so effectively, you will need to understand their point of view and their objections to yours. Consider writing out what the opposing viewpoints are and what kinds of information would someone with the opposing view need from you in order to change their mind?


Identifying Your Audience and Readers

Each time you communicate, in writing or otherwise, you consider whom you’re communicating with and why, whether you’re conscious of this or not. Think about it: if you’re asking your best friend for a favor, aren’t you going to ask differently than if you were asking your boss for a raise? You already have a great instinct for knowing how to shape language around the people you are addressing and what your goal is. So how can you use this instinct when writing for your college classes?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

A roaring political rally, a studio audience, dancing concert goers—these are all examples of different types of audiences, but an audience for your writing is a bit different. All audiences have a job to do: they are consumers of information or experiences. So when you set out to write, deciding who your audience is, is an important first step.

What is the Difference between an Audience and a Reader?

Great question! It’s as simple as this: your audience is the person or group whom you intend to reach with your writing. A reader is just someone who gets their hands on your beautiful words. The reader might be the person you have in mind as you write, the audience you’re trying to reach, but they might be some random person you’ve never thought of a day in your life. You can’t always know much about random readers, but you should have some understanding of who your audience is. While you are writing for an audience, it’s both the reader and the audience that you want to focus on as you shape your message.

Isn’t My Instructor Always My Audience?

Sometimes your instructor will be your intended audience, and your purpose will be to demonstrate your learning about a particular topic to earn credit on an assignment. Other times, even in your college classes, your intended audience or readers will be a person or group outside of the instructor or your peers. This could be someone who has a personal interest in or need to read about your topic but who may never actually read your work unless it finds a place to be published like a blog or website. Understanding who your intended audience is and who your readers might be will help you shape your writing.

Here are some questions you might think about as you’re deciding what to write about and how to shape your message:

  • What do I know about my audience and my readers? (age, gender, interests, biases, or concerns; Do they have an opinion already? Do they have a stake in the topic?)
  • What do they know about my topic? (What does this audience or my readers not know about the topic? What do they need to know?)
  • What details might affect the way this audience or my readers thinks about my topic? (How will facts, statistics, personal stories, examples, definitions, or other types of evidence affect this audience/readers? What kind of effect are you going for?)LICENSE

The Word on College Reading and Writing by Carol Burnell, Jaime Wood, Monique Babin, Susan Pesznecker, and Nicole Rosevear is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted. Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License



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Identifying Your Audience and Readers by Liza Long, Amy Minervini, and Joel Gladd is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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