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How to Determine the Best Audience or Readers for an Essay

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  • 0:12 Determining the Best Audience
  • 1:19 Why is Audience Important?
  • 2:33 Clues to Identifying…
  • 6:32 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Doresa Jennings

Doresa holds a Ph.D. in Communication Studies.

Who should be reading this? Not every essay can be enjoyed by everyone equally. How do you know who is the best target for an essay? This lesson will help you figure that out.

Determining the Best Audience

What is an audience? The audience is the reader of the essay. While anyone that reads an essay can be considered a part of the audience, the target audience is the group of readers the essay was intended to reach.

When it comes to determining the best, or most appropriate, audience for an essay, imagine yourself as a travel consultant. There may be many people that come to you wanting to schedule a cruise vacation. It is important for you to know exactly what group each cruise line caters toward to ensure you are booking your customers on the best vessel to reach their needs and expectations. A young couple going on their honeymoon probably wouldn't be expecting to be booked on a vessel geared toward small children with dancing characters, cartoons playing on all the television stations, and the signature drink being flavors of milkshakes. I am also pretty sure you wouldn't book an elderly couple on a spring break cruise catering to fraternity toga parties.

Why is Audience Important?

Why is audience important? It is important to identify the intended and most appropriate audience for a piece in order to put the writing in the proper context. For instance, imagine if someone purchased the book Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss as a cookbook for a budding chef - there is a focus on food, right? It is understood that although the topic of food is a running theme throughout Green Eggs and Ham, the target audience is young children just learning to read, not the five-star chef at your favorite restaurant.

It is difficult to accurately critique writing without understanding the intended audience of the piece. In the same way it would be wrong for me to deem a cruise bad simply because they catered to their target customer base, which I wasn't a part of. This is not to say works of writing can't be read, understood, or appreciated by individuals that fall outside of the intended audience. It just means, when we are evaluating a piece, we should keep in mind who the piece was mostly likely written to in terms of target audience.

Clues to Identifying Your Audience

There are several clues within the writing of a piece that help us determine the most appropriate audience. Let's continue with our cruise vacation theme as we review these clues: 'Sophisticated Elegance' versus 'Awesome Gaming Fun'. Word choice in the piece is going to be your best clue to who the intended audience is in a work. Let's take, for instance, the following paragraph found on one website:

'Volcanology research focuses on assessment and mitigation of volcanic hazards, the composition of volcanic gases through direct sampling methods and remote sensing, continental scientific drilling, geothermal energy, volcanogenic mineral deposits, pyroclastic deposits, and the disposal of chemical and nuclear waste in volcanic materials.'

Let's contrast that with this paragraph:

'To be prepared to study geology at a university or college, students must take math and science classes when they are in high school and even in junior high school. It seems unfair, but it is true, that how much you learn when you are in grade school and high school usually determines what you will be able to do during the rest of your life. If you want to become a volcanologist, you must concentrate on your classes, even if other kids seem to spend all their time with sports or dating or other pastimes. Don't be a nerd; enjoy life, but also be serious about your studies!'

Both of these paragraphs deal with the research and studies necessary to become a volcanologist. Both of these paragraphs are aimed at students. However, we can pretty easily detect that the first paragraph was intended for graduate students who plan on studying in a volcanology or geology department, while the second paragraph is aimed at middle school and high school students just finding out there is an actual field where people get to study volcanoes for a living. We know this because of the words used in each paragraph. Not many high school students understand concepts such as remote sensing or continental scientific drilling, and most graduate geology students aren't worried about their friends spending more time dating. So while each paragraph was found on college websites describing various aspects of the same field, they were clearly written to very different student audiences.

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