EDWISE  - EDITOR AND EDUCATION CONSULTANT
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Eye of the Optimist-who is the audience?

For my business writing editing course, we have been studying a consideration of the audience who is to read the product that the writer produces. A writer can communicate better if she understands who she wants to reach and who will be reading her work. By putting herself in the shoes of the readers, she can find the best style and supply the most useful information or insight.

Who is my audience here? My primary audience is me, as this is a blog journal which I share in a public space. Actually, I have multiple audiences, though I do not know who they are. I know a little from the 30 or so comments I have received to date over the course of two years. I can only guess and imagine who most of you are. I began by supposing that I am writing about a general theme that many people may appreciate, which is positive thinking, and I offer reflections, information, and suggestions on that theme.

Since embarking on this writing course, which I mentioned above, I have been thinking about who my readers are. I want to home my writing for your benefit and mine.

Today I share with you some reading material from the aforementioned writing course. It is an excerpt on audience and writing, from the book, "Advanced Study in Writing for Business and the Professions," by Anne Hungerford, and published by Simon Fraser University in 2005 (p. 54-56).


"This exchange between writer and reader is a complicated process that contains the potential for many breakdowns in communication. Good writers realize the complexity of their task and strive to understand their audiences as thoroughly as is possible. They know that if they can put themselves in their readers’ position and interpret their material from this perspective, they will reduce the gap between writer and reader considerably. Moreover, if they acknowledge their readers’ attitudes and concerns in their documents, they will facilitate comprehension substantially because their readers, responding to material that is focused toward them, will be able to assimilate the message more easily. Many writers, however, fail to perform this crucial task. Some find their readers intimidating and, consequently, choose to ignore them; others are so interested in their content that they focus exclusively on their subject and, inadvertently, leave their readers behind. By far, though, the majority of writers are simply unaware of how central and important their audiences are. They think it is the reader’s job to understand what they have written, when, in fact, it is the writer’s job to build a bridge of communication by understanding what the reader will bring to the material and by shaping the document to reflect the reader’s concerns. Although they have lost contact with their readers, these writers are often writing to an audience of sorts—themselves."

While at times writers might consciously choose to write to themselves, might for various reasons see this inward focus as productive, many writers end up being their own audiences by default; that is, they have simply failed to consider their real audiences at all. Writers with this perspective experience difficulties because, in focusing on themselves, they deny the communicative function of writing. Frequently, for instance, they ignore their audience’s needs and select their content according to their own interests. In addition, they often choose a structure based on their own level of comprehension, a choice that fails to help readers who are always less familiar with the content. Such insular writing is, unfortunately, common in the business world, and it is the source of many problems that occur in business documents. To correct this problem, you need to answer the following three questions:
1. Who is my audience? If I have more than one, who are they? Which one is primary? Secondary? 2. At what stage should I admit my audience(s) into my process? 3. How can I focus my document to achieve communication with my readers? 

Communicating with Primary Audiences
 To communicate successfully with your readers, you need to admit them into your writing process and make the necessary adjustments. For example, you might be asked to compose a number of documents on the same subject for different audiences, each of them primary. If you make the common mistake of focusing on your subject at the expense of your readers, you will lose the opportunity to communicate effectively. Instead, you need to tailor your material to your audiences."

..."Strategies for Handling Multiple Audiences Business writers frequently find themselves in the position of writing to several audiences at once. Perhaps, for instance, a writer has written a report for a client that will also be read by several reviewers in his company. He might be tempted, under these circumstances, to focus on his reviewing audiences, since their feedback will be immediate and will reflect on his performance at work. These audiences, however, if they are performing their reviewing task correctly, will not be focusing on how well the writer communicates with them, but rather on how well he communicates with the client. Therefore, this writer should aim his text at his primary audience, the client, and consider his secondary audience, his reviewers, only at the later stages of revising. (A good way to help reviewers focus on the primary audience is to provide them with an audience profile.)"



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