As of late, one of my good friends has discovered that both my red pen and my door are always open for me to play editor. I have been reading a lot of his writing, mostly application essays and academic papers, and it’s actually been a really eye opening experience for me as a writer. In the past when I would edit a paper, I would simply fix the grammar and the occasional awkward phrasing. After all, it wasn’t my job to write the damn thing. However, I noticed this past week as I looked at five different papers for Austin that my style of feedback has drastically changed.
Yes, I’m still a stickler for grammar and yes, I believe that the Oxford comma should always participate in lists (and I’m happy to remind someone of that). But my commentary has switched from making sure the author maintains the same tense throughout a sentence to making sure the piece has a purpose that is clear for its audience.
All semester, I’ve been struggling with Shelley’s lamenting about “general audiences” and how difficult it is to write for them. I sat in class thinking they were the easiest to write for and that she must have been crazy…until I sat there reading Austin’s essay for an admissions officer. The first draft literally made no sense. It had nothing to do with why he wanted to be a student in Ross. Everything in his essay could be found on the Ross website, so I sat there telling him that prospective students aren’t his audience, his audience already knows why the school is great. What his audience doesn’t know is why he thinks its great and deserves to belong there. And in that one moment I understood what I should have learned from class earlier on in the semester. (Sorry Shelley if you’re reading this, but ultimately THANK YOU!)
So now that I have learned my lesson, I just have to work on implementing it. When reading Austin’s essay, I knew exactly whom his audience was. When I’m writing, I don’t usually know who I want to be writing for. I’m having this huge dilemma with my e-portfolio. I have gone back and forth on audiences for it multiple times. Just last night I changed the theme and format around four times to see if one of them would spark any brilliant ideas. Did the professional formats make me want to make my portfolio for potential employers? No. Did the funky formats make me want to write for just my peers? No. None of the formats seemed to fit exactly what I want. I’m too formal to write for just my peers in a fun and uninhibited way, but I’m too quirky to keep my page completely professional. I’m struggling to pick just one, but I also don’t know how to write for both. It’s like speaking to an empty room: I can say whatever I want, but if the right people aren’t there to hear it, it won’t matter at all.
Based on our class discussion, I know I’m not the only one having this constant debate over audience. However, now that I so blatantly learned my lesson on audience, I feel obligated to create the perfect portfolio for the perfect audience so I don’t cause that awful sense of confusion I felt whilst reading Austin’s first draft. (Oh also, by the way his essay was actually really great, it just had the wrong purpose, which is the part that scared me most. Even great writing can end up horribly misplaced.)
The best part about this blog (well at least in my opinion) is that my audience is pretty explicitly defined as the rest of you minor students dealing with this same nonsense. It makes me feel like these complaints are completely justified and shared, sooo thanks for reading about all of my struggles! Best of luck if you all have the same ones!