Online Writing Lab

Determining Audience

After coming up with a specific topic, it is also important to identify the audience for an essay.   As a writer, your audience is not whoever reads the essay (this is far too broad) or even simply your instructor (of course he/she will read the essay).  Instead, the audience is the group of people you want to educate or persuade.   

Why Audience Matters

Knowing the audience for a particular essay is important because it determines the content that will appear in the writing.  The content of an essay that has a specific topic will vary depending on the intended audience.  In other words, having a focused topic is important, but having a specific audience is equally important.

For example, let’s say you are writing an expository (informative) essay on the most important practice techniques in becoming a better tennis player.  If your audience is beginning tennis players, or players who know little about the game, the techniques needed to get better are different than if you are writing to intermediate players who want to become good enough to enter and/or win tournaments.   In the first example, the steps would be more basic, while in the second example they would obviously be more advanced.  Either way, the topic of the essay, becoming a better tennis player, is the same, but because the audiences are different, the information in each essay will be different as well. 

The same is true of an argument or persuasive essay.  If you are arguing for a change to occur, identifying the level at which you want this change to occur and/or the people you want to persuade to help create this change (audience) is important.  For example, an essay about the need for a change to Aims’ grading system can have different audiences.  One potential audience may be the students who attend Aims, in which case explaining how this change would benefit students with more accurate grading becomes important.  Another audience could be the Aims senior management, in which case the benefits to enrollment and student retention become important points to address.

More on Audience

Knowing the intended audience for an essay can also answer other questions that frequently arise.  For instance, writers often wonder if the use of jargon (words or language related to a specific field) or acronyms (abbreviations of longer names/terms) is appropriate or must be explained.  This question can be answered by knowing the audience.  If the audience for an essay should understand these terms, then they don’t necessarily need to be explained and can be used.   Put another way, if you are writing an essay on a medical topic and the audience is medical professionals, complex medical terms can and probably even should be used.  If, on the other hand, your audience is a group of non-medical experts (ex: women diagnosed with breast cancer), such terms would need to be explained or not used at all.

Tip:  One way to develop and sustain a specific audience is to incorporate the audience into the thesis statement.  The following are examples of thesis statements that identify a specific audience:

Example #1:  First time college students (audience) need to know the proper way to study for a final exam.

Example #2:  The Greeley school district (audience) needs to implement mandatory school uniforms for all middle school students in order to facilitate better learning.