When doing any kind of writing, it is important to think about who the piece of writing is directed toward (or, who may come across your writing in the future!). In order to help understand your audience better, break down their traits and think about how knowing that trait may influence your writing. One trait alone might not be enough to make informed decisions about your writing—you will need to look at your audience from a number of perspectives so that you can write more convincingly.
Several perspectives are outlined below. They are in no significant order, and each is as important as the next. Use them to develop your audience “profile” to strengthen your approach in your writing.
Audience Profile Checklist
When addressing a particular age group, keeping in mind how old someone is may play a role in how appropriate or receptive they are to your message. Word choices, explanations, and even topics will need to cater to what that age group is able to reasonably understand and are mature enough to handle. For example, a writer will likely have different explanations for drug safety depending on whether they are addressing elementary or high school students.
Depending on where your audience is from or residing, regional dialect, belief systems, and different regions of the country may shift. For instance, audiences in an urban vs. rural setting will have very different concerns and priorities that need to be addressed.
The physical location of the audience may also influence how the text is written. An audience who is far away will need to be reached through a different genre.
Each audience has their own unique culture, perspectives, and writing practices. Considering and respecting the cultural and writing traditions of your audience will help your message come across more clearly.
An audience’s life experiences greatly influence how they respond to messages. Their education, life events, history, roles, jobs, and interests influence how they hear your message.
The Audience's Expectations
The writer’s purpose in composing an argument is important to consider. However, it is also important to think about why the audience would listen. Understanding the audience’s expectations and why audiences may be interested in listening to the message will help you better address their needs.
Taking a look at the perspective of your audience—no matter how much you may disagree with it—is a critical step in crafting your writing. Think about what ideas, beliefs, and biases your particular audience is bringing to the table—if you cannot understand their perspective, then they will not be as receptive to what you are trying to say.
Intended vs. Unintended Audience
The intended audience of your writing is the group of people that you are specifically writing for. The unintended audience are readers, who you were not intending to directly address, that may come across your writing. Keep in mind scenarios where your writing (especially on the internet) may be seen outside of your intended audience and may be harmful in the long run. When writing, think about the lowest common denominator between your intended and unintended audiences.
Below is an example for how messages may shift depending on the audience. We have included the writing prompt for a class assignment, the three different audience members, and three different calls to action depending on who is being written to. Notice how the calls to action change based on the different characteristics of the audience.
Pokémon Go is a widely popular alternate reality game which allows players to capture Pokémon monsters using an app on their phone. The game has “pokéstops” that allow players to gather items and “gyms” that allow trainers to battle monsters to earn rewards and points. To find Pokémon, pokéstops, and gyms, players must visit the locations in person. Although Pokémon Go is encouraging many young people to get outside and exercise, Pokémon Go is also presenting many safety concerns. There are already recorded instances of car accidents, theft, and break ins into popular landmarks to capture or battle at a gym. For these reasons, you as a writer are seeking to create a town ordinance to limit Pokémon Go’s use in public places. To do this, you must gather signatures. Create a short pitch to get your audience’s signature on the petition. Assume you are talking with these people as they pass you on the street and that you are on friendly terms with everyone.
A forty-five-year-old man who owns his own diner in the center of town. He has very formal, traditional values and does not allow cell phones in his diner. Although he used to participate in town events, he has since grown less social and annoyed by the constant festivities. He does not own a cell phone advanced enough to play.
Is a spunky, spoiled 14-year-old. She comes from an affluent neighborhood and is an active Pokémon Go player. She is very popular but also has a hard time seeing how something she enjoys could be harmful. When she sees you with the clipboard, she knows exactly why you’re approaching her and is currently playing the game.
Works as a chef at an inn that is growing and thriving. She is married and has three children. The oldest is 12 years old. She is warm, giving, and enthusiastic about her work and kids. She is very prone to injury and worries about her kids and husband. She quit playing after twisting her ankle running after an Eevee in the game.
Pitches Tailored to the Audience
Pitch to Luke
Hello Luke. I know you’re busy, so I’ll keep this short. I heard your diner is being bombarded with people trying to use their cell phones to play that new Pokémon game in the middle of the night. I have a petition that will encourage the mayor to restrict its usage in public places like your diner to ensure your privacy. Would you be interested in signing and showing your support?
Pitch to Gigi
Hey, Gigi. How’s your game going? I think you know why I’m here, and I wanted to reassure you that the kinds of restrictions I’m proposing on Pokémon Go wouldn’t negatively impact your gameplay. Since your curfew is at 8 and you are good at minding your surroundings, the restrictions wouldn’t harm you– it would just make it safer for other players. Could you sign this to show your support for your Pokémon Go community?
Pitch to Sookie
Hi Sookie. Are your kids still playing the Pokémon Go app? I have a petition encouraging the mayor to restrict Pokémon Go’s usage in public spaces so that kids aren’t wandering around late at night capturing Pokémon and to make sure they’re staying safe while playing. You’re not the first person who was injured while playing the game, and the restrictions are designed to help kids put away the phone when doing things like driving. Would you mind signing the petition to show your support?