An Audience vs. Ourselves: For Whom Do We Write?

After reading “Craft of Research Reading,” I see my job as a writer from a new perspective, and I’ve started to think about the reader-writer relationship in a very different way.

Chapter Two begins with the statement, “Most of the important things we do, we do with others.” I’ve always understood that writing isn’t a solitary act, and that the reader-writer relationship is an essential component to any good writing. Yet the authors of this chapter made me question whether or not I think about my audience as much as I should. Before beginning to write something, I usually ask myself: Who is my audience? What I fail to do is dig deeper and ask: What does my audience already know? What does my audience want to know? What does my audience need to know? The answers to these questions play a huge role in the genre, tone and argument of my writing, and thus are extremely important to address early on.

I definitely agree that it’s important to understand your audience and keep your readers in mind as you write. That’s not to say, however, that I think the audience should solely carry a piece of writing and dictate everything else that follows. As I wrote my original source for Project 1 (my college application essay), I was too focused on the audience of my essay. I cared too much about what my readers (i.e. college admissions officers) wanted to read, and less about what I wanted to share. In doing so, I may have lost my own writing voice along the way.

Some of the best pieces of writing are those that discuss topics that many people may not want to hear. Sure, most people are inclined to read about what they like, but it’s equally important for people to read things that are out of their comfort zone, challenge their thinking, and/or make them disagree with the writer’s opinion. Now that I have the opportunity to re-purpose my original source, I have the opportunity to step back from my writing and rethink my audience. I no longer have to adhere to the wants and needs of a college admissions officer; I have the freedom to share exactly want I want my audience to hear.

This reading also made me reflect on my specific audience for Project 1. After presenting my proposal to the class last week, several people raised the question of, “Who exactly is your audience?” While I felt inclined to make my audience the general public in order to reach as many people as possible, the broadness of this audience makes it difficult to tailor to any reader to all. As the authors of Craft of Research Reading point out, “…there are so many ‘you’s’ out there, all different.” It would be impossible to convince the entire “public” to read my argument and to cater to everyone’s wants and needs. Therefore, I need to be more specific about my audience before beginning the re-purposing process.

Lastly, this article encouraged me to let my interests and enthusiasm shine through my projects. My readers won’t want to hear what I have to say if it isn’t clear that the topic is important to me. I also need to be careful not to assume that my readers know everything (or even anything) about my topic. I may be somewhat of an expert on my topic after spending an entire semester on it, but that doesn’t imply that my readers are, too.

While this article offers many valuable pieces of advice, it also introduces an argument that I don’t entirely agree with. In Chapter Two, the authors say, “If you miscast readers, you will leave so many traces in your early drafts that you won’t easily fix them in the final one.” This statement contradicts Lamott’s main argument in Shitty First Drafts. My first drafts rarely reflect my readers’ wants and needs. In fact, my first drafts rarely reflect MY wants and needs; they’re usually just “shitty!” Therefore, I believe there’s still hope for a writer to adapt to his or her audience even well into the revision stage, and I have successful experience to prove it 🙂


Should writers only write what their readers would “Like?”

2 thoughts to “An Audience vs. Ourselves: For Whom Do We Write?”

  1. Really great insight into the thought behind the writing process. I like how you present both sides of the process: being conscious regarding what the reader knows and will want to hear, and also staying true to yourself as a writer and how you wish to portray your topic. Also, great point about the shitty first drafts…. What would we do if we couldn’t rewrite again and again?!?! Granted I personally dread the revision process but I know that it is always there for me. I think the author was being slightly dramatic in making that point. Great post 🙂

  2. Hi Mel!
    I really liked that you connected this back to your own project here! I really think your project idea is fascinating and I think you will do great things with it. I think I was one to ask who your audience would be, and I’d have to say I’m still curious. I could see how you would aim this back at the general public in order to reach out to many people, but I think with some deeper thought you could narrow that down even more. My advice (though you absolutely don’t have to take it) would be to write your whole thing out point blank and decide what you like/ don’t like about it. Adjust it a little then read it to some people. Decide from there how comfortable it feels with the general public, friends, peers, yourself, etc.! Good luck 🙂

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