One of the most common struggles I see in the writers I work with – and in myself – is the issue of ‘who is my audience?’ While most student writers don’t ask that question directly, they struggle with it – a lot.
Here’s a common arch: the first paragraph of a college essay typically operates in a passive voice – a sure sign the student is not entirely sure what she wants to say yet; then, about a third of the way through the paper, the student clearly catches her writing stride and she shifts to an active, confident voice; she concludes her thoughts succinctly, but still feels the need to summarize her points and shifts back to an unsure, passive voice in a final paragraph.
Many challenges feed into this arch – time management, general writing confidence, but also whether the writer has really decided on an audience.
To help my student become aware of their choices when it comes to audience, I walk through this exercise with them, which usually results in some funny responses.
1- Think of a recent event in your life, something specific. Focus on a single moment. If you consider your graduation day, for example, think of a specific moment on that day – maybe a touching point of someone’s speech, maybe when someone tripped as he grabbed his diploma – a detailed moment.
2- Divide a piece of paper (or screen) into three heading spaces, using these headings: ‘Telling My Friend, ‘Telling My Grandma (or other elder), Telling a Job Interviewer
3- Under each heading, narrate the story of the specific moment you just thought about.
4- Note your word choices, how much or how little background information you need to explain for each person noted in the heading, and any other changes you made as you wrote about the same story to three different people.
5- Break into your small groups and share your findings about what changes you made, and then share your impressions with the class.
As students share with the class, they often report not only making different word choices, but actually sitting differently in their chairs as they wrote under each separate heading. When they wrote to their grandmothers, they changed their posture. When they wrote to their potential interviewers, they held their pens differently (or placed their fingers on the keys more accurately), and generally scanned for errors as they wrote.
I was reminded about this Audience Exercise, because of another blogger’s post titled The Rhetoric of Twitter. Her post made me realize that the headings I usually provide my students are not enough anymore. From now on, I’ll include other headings about electronic and social media: ‘Texting a Friend’ or ‘Tweeting about Your Moment.’ Social Media audiences add a whole other dimension to the exercise because of the brevity required, yet the public nature of Twitter and Facebook.
If any of you have ideas for revising my exercise to accommodate social media, I am really interested in hearing your thoughts!
- Finding Authentic Readers to Foster Authentic Writers (tcsamaripa.wordpress.com)