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Determining Your Audience

Determining Your Audience

Author: Dan Reade
  1. Distinguish between the real and intended audience.

  2. Distinguish between general and specific audiences (e.g. graduate students in Psychology vs. students).

  3. Explain how the chosen audience can impact stylistic choices (tone, vocabulary, formality, etc.).

  4. Explain how to indicate or imply the chosen audience in the title or introduction (e.g. A teacher’s guide to incorporating technology in the classroom).

This packet should help a learner seeking to understand how to prepare to write a paper and who is confused about how to choose an audience. It will explain why it is important to determine the audience before writing the paper.

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The Real vs. The Intended Audience

"My play was a complete success. The audience was a failure." - Ashleigh Brilliant

Almost any piece of writing, whether an essay or story or poem or a song, is meant for an audience. And the audience in many ways determines the success of the writing. Read the above quote again. Can a play really be a success if the audience hates it? Recognizing the importance of the audience is one of the keys to developing as a writer. The identity of your audience, from their beliefs and their backgrounds to their educations, jobs and emotions, are going to affect how they react to a piece of writing. A good writer keeps that in mind.

One of the first distinctions to think about as a writer is who is going to read the essay vs. who does the writer want to read the essay. This is the difference between the real vs. the intended audience. The intended audience is the group the writer has in mind as he or she is composing. The real audience, on the other hand, is all the people, both intended and unintended, who actually read the work. 

This distinction arises all the time. An article by a baseball reporter may be meant for fans of a particular team (the intended audience) but may be read by anyone who buys that newspaper (the real audience). A report prepared at work may be meant for the boss but might make its way to coworkers as well. 

The same is true in the classroom. Most of the papers a student writes will be for the instructor.

 But what about teaching assistants? What if the professor has students share their papers with each other as part of a peer review? The good writer keeps these possibilities in mind when crafting their work.

The basic idea as this: as a writer, think about who your audience is, whether that's your teacher, classmates, parents, or others. But also remember that more than that intended person or group may read your work. As such, write work that is specific enough to appeal to your intended audience, but that offers enough explanations that even an outsider can follow and appreciate what you've done. That way, you can be confident that no matter who sees your story or essay, you'll have your bases covered.


Source: Dan Reade; Quote: Image CC Credit: Scott Abbott Image CC Credit: Aus_chick

General vs. Specific Audiences

This slideshow covers the basic definitions of general and specific audiences and offers writing strategies for addressing each one.

Source: Dan Reade

Adapting To Your Audience

In this section, you will study how recognizing your audience may change the way you write. The PDF below provides explanations and exercises.


Source: Dan Reade

Signaling Your Audience

The following slide show will discuss how to indicate your intended audience through the title of your essay or its introduction.

Source: Dan Reade


While writing is often an activity we do alone, it is one that is meant for others. By thinking about your audience before you begin writing, and by keeping them in mind throughout the writing process, you can create a paper that more effectively meets the needs of your audience and convinces them to support your point-of-view.

Source: Dan Reade