Writing for An Audience: How to Structure Your Argument

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  • 0:01 Audience
  • 1:10 Receptive Audience
  • 3:46 Resistant Audience
  • 6:33 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

The structure of a persuasive essay depends on the audience. In this lesson, we'll explore two common argumentative structures - classical and Rogerian - and when each of them is most effective.

Audience

Clara has noticed something about writing her thoughts down: the way she writes something depends on who is going to read it. For example, if she wants to talk to her best friend about how her math teacher, Mr. Simon, is a big meanie who doesn't teach very well, she may write an email or text message that says, 'Man, Mr. Simon is a big meanie! I hate his class!'

On the other hand, if she wants to convince her principal that Mr. Simon is a big meanie, she may write something like, 'Mr. Simon is too harsh with his students and because he is overly strict, he lowers their motivation to learn.'

In both of these, Clara is essentially saying the same thing, but she's changed the way she says it because the person reading her writing has changed. Audience is the person to whom the writer is addressing his or her piece. When Clara texts her best friend, the audience is her best friend. When she writes to her principal, her audience is the principal.

When writing a persuasive essay, the audience has a large effect on how you write. Let's look closer at how to structure your argument based on whether you are writing to a receptive audience or a hostile one.

Receptive Audience

Clara doesn't like her math teacher, Mr. Simon. She thinks he picks on her and it makes her feel frustrated and like she doesn't want to do work for him. She wants to convince everyone that Mr. Simon is a bad teacher and should not be allowed to teach anymore.

The first thing Clara needs to do is figure out who her audience is. Let's say that she's writing an email to the other students in her class to gain their support for the idea that Mr. Simon shouldn't be allowed to teach anymore. She knows that most of the class agrees with her or, at least, that they don't disagree with her.

A receptive audience is a reader who agrees with you or is neutral. They are open to receiving your message, so they are called receptive. A persuasive essay aimed at a receptive audience should have six basic parts:

1. Introduction - The introduction should introduce the topic by explaining what the issue is and why it is important. For example, Clara can explain that teachers who are unfair and demotivating are not very effective.

2. Thesis - Next, Clara will want to jump right in with explaining what her position is. For example, she may say that Mr. Simon is unfair and demotivating and, therefore, he should not be allowed to teach anymore.

3. Background - Clara shouldn't assume that her audience understands all the history and context of the issue, so she should explain what they might not know. She might, for example, need to explain that students score worse on tests when they are in a class with a teacher who fails to motivate them.

4. Reasons and Evidence - Once the audience understands Clara's position, she'll want to prove it. She can, for example, include details about incidents that have occurred in the classroom or point to the fact that Mr. Simon consistently scores low in student ratings.

5. Address the Other Side - After Clara proves her point, she should also try to disprove the other side. For example, she could say something like, 'Some people may argue that teaching is a difficult job. However, there are many teachers that manage to do that difficult job while being fair and motivating their students.'

6. Conclusion - In the last paragraph, Clara will want to summarize and restate her important points. She won't want to add any new information, but instead will focus on restating her thesis and the most important parts of her essay.

This structure of an argument (introduction, thesis, background, reasons and evidence, addressing the other side, and conclusion) is known as the classical argument. As we stated, it is best for receptive audiences.

Resistant Audience

Clara writes her letter to her receptive audience, her classmates, and it goes over well. They agree with her points and her thesis that Mr. Simon should not be allowed to teach any longer. Because she did so well with her letter to them, they ask that she compose a letter to the principal and school board to try to convince them.

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