Adapting to Your Audience

Readers versus Audience

Steve Reid, English Department
To me a reader is an important concept to think about when you're writing for an audience. If you're thinking about writing for readers, generally, then what you need to do is ask yourself questions about how do readers process information. How do they make meaning, and how do they access key ideas in text and what are readers expectations when they pick up a printed text? Obviously those are going to vary from one discipline to the next. I like to make the distinction in my own mind between audience, i.e. target group of people who might pick up what I've written and read it, and readers who may have expectations about what's going to be in text. Readers may expect things to be in paragraphs. Readers may look for topic sentences. Readers will certainly try to anticipate what the overall claim is. Readers need cues about how to move from one section to the next. It's useful also to think, not just about target audience, but about how readers actually process textual information.

You can make the distinction between your audience as a target group (i.e., the group of people who may be attracted to your subject matter or your point-of-view) and your audience as readers (actual people who read your text, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence, word by word.)

An audience is the group of people who will be attracted to your writing. They may share certain subject interests, social or political beliefs, or certain demographic features. Once you know something about your target audience, you have some idea about their expectations of the subject, format, and style of writing.

When you use the term, "readers," however, you are, in addition, thinking about how your audience processes your text, or how they actually read. In addition to being interested in your ideas, these actual readers must wade through your words and sentences. Writers need to learn to anticipate the needs of their readers as well as the interests of their audiences.

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