Once you have a topic in mind for an essay or article, it’s time to start thinking about audience.
Even with all my experience writing, I freeze up when someone asks, “Who is your audience?” I want to reply the same way my former students often did: “Everybody.”
Why doesn’t “everybody” work as an audience? Let’s take a look at who is included in the category of everybody:
- Newborn babies
- The world’s oldest living person
- All the people in between
- People who do not speak or read the language you write in
- People who can’t read any language or don’t want to
- People who don’t care about your topic
With the above list in mind, let’s consider a topic college women often write about: weddings. Look at the list above, and you will see there are a number of groups you can cross off as not a part of your possible audience.
Let’s assume children under the age of twelve won’t be interested. But wait. If the essay or article is written about a child being part of a wedding, perhaps as a ring bearer or flower girl, and the language is appropriate to the age level, you might have found an audience.
What about men as an audience for your wedding article? Consider that most wedding magazines have “bride” in the title, and take that as a hint about the number of men who are interested in reading about weddings. That is not to say no man will ever be interested, but most will not. While men are a part of everybody, they are probably not part of your target audience.
So women make up the target audience. But which women? What is the age of the bride? Your essay will probably appeal to women of the same age. Are you writing about how to prepare for a church wedding? Those most interested will be potential brides with the money to invest in the wedding you describe. Are you writing about some disaster at your wedding that you laugh about now? Women often enjoy these stories long after they have been brides themselves. Each slant will have a different audience. Note: If you are writing your essay for a class, you may want a different topic because your instructor has probably received at least six wedding essays in the current group and may be tired of them.
What about topics college men write about?
If you are a man and you’ve gotten this far, you are probably getting tired of all the wedding talk. You may be thinking that this blog post is only for women writers. Not so, but you see how examples matter. Frequent topics of former male students included cars, hunting, and becoming a father.
For college men, a first car, from buying it to keeping it in running condition, along with the freedom the vehicle gave them, is a frequent topic for a narrative essay, one that tells a story. Buying your first car could have a broader audience than the wedding example I used above since women may also be interested in how to get the best deal. However, the mechanical aspects of do-it-yourself car repair will appeal mostly to men. But what men? All? No. Your audience might be young men with their first cars and not much money for repairs. They might be men fascinated by the mechanical workings of a vehicle. But some men will not be interested in spending time on cars. They may be men who are working full time and don’t want to spend their free time repairing and maintaining a vehicle. They would rather pay someone to do the work. Wait. Do you have any tips on finding a good mechanic? Make a list of likely readers before you start writing the rough draft of your essay. Note: I have yawned over five or six change-the-oil essays from one set of process assignments. If this essay is for a class, changing the oil is not a good topic. However, it might be an excellent topic for other circumstances.
Factors to Consider:
Age: Pick a topic common to all reading ages, such as training a dog. Go to your public library and look at books on your chosen topic in the child, young adult, and adult sections. Examine the differences in the way the subject matter is handled. Note such things as word choices, the length of sentences, and types of examples.
Experience level and interest of the reader: As you look at the books on your chosen topic, select several from the same age group and skim the table of contents and first chapter. Look for the perceived experience level. For the dog example, how does the writer perceive the reader? Is the likely reader someone with a new pet who needs to know how to train the dog to not jump on people and not chew up shoes? Is this a book for a dog trainer? Is this a book for people who want to breed dogs and sell them? Is this a book for people who want to show dogs in a competition?
To recap: Why Audience Matters
Whether you are writing for a class, a blog, a letter of application for a job or scholarship, or any other situation, knowing your audience will help you select the correct language level and examples for those readers.
Questions about audience:
If you have questions about audience, please ask them in a comment.
In the next post, I’ll be writing about your connection to a topic and defining the purpose of an essay or article.
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