Academic Evaluations

Effects of Audience

Kate Kiefer, English Professor
When we evaluate for ourselves, we don't usually take the time to articulate criteria and detail evidence. Our thought processes work fast enough that we often seem to make split-second decisions. Even when we spend time thinking over a decision--like which expensive toy (car, stereo, skis) to buy--we don't often lay out the criteria explicitly.

We can't take that shortcut when we write to other folks, though. If we want readers to accept our judgment, then we need to be clear about the criteria we use and the evidence that helps us determine value for each criterion. After all, why should I agree with you to eat at the Outback Steak House if you care only about cost but I care about taste and safe food handling? To write an effective evaluation, you need to figure out what your readers care about and then match your criteria to their concerns. Similarly, you can overwhelm readers with too much detail when they don't have the background knowledge to care about that level of detail. Or you can ignore the expertise of your readers (at your peril) and not give enough detail. Then, as a writer, you come across as condescending, or worse.

So targeting an audience is really key to successful evaluation.

In written evaluation, it is important to keep in mind not only your own system of value, but also that of your audience. Writers do not evaluate in a vacuum. Giving some thought to the audience you are attempting to influence will help you to determine what criteria are important to them and what evidence they will require in order to be convinced or persuaded by your evaluative argument. In order to evaluate effectively, it is important that you consider what motivates and concerns your audience.

Criteria and Audience Considerations

The first step in deciding which criteria will be effective in your evaluation is determining which criteria your audience considers important. For example, if you are writing a review of a Mexican restaurant to an audience comprised mainly of senior citizens from the midwest, it is unlikely that "large portions" and "fiery green chile" will be the criteria most important to them. They might be more concerned, rather, with "quality of service" or "availability of heart smart menu items." Trying to anticipate and address your audience's values is an indispensable step in writing a persuasive evaluative argument.

Your next step in suiting your criteria to your audience is to determine how you will explain and/or defend not only your judgments, but the criteria supporting them as well. For example, if you are arguing that a Mexican restaurant is excellent because, among other reasons, the texture of the food is appealing, you might need to explain to your audience why texture is a significant criterion in evaluating Mexican food.

Evidence and Audience Considerations

The amount and type of evidence you use to support your judgments will depend largely on the demands of your audience. Common sense tells us that the more oppositional an audience is, the more evidence will be needed to convince them of the validity a judgment. For instance, if you were writing a favorable review of La Cocina on the basis of their fiery green chile, you might not need to use a great deal of evidence for an audience of people who like spicy food but have not tried any of the Mexican restaurants in town. However, if you are addressing an audience who is deeply devoted to the green chile at Manuel's, you will need to provide a fair amount of solid evidence in order to persuade them to try another restaurant.

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