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Friday, April 22, 2005

Audience Analysis: A Lesson Plan

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This is one of a series devoted to composition and writing courses. The focus of this unit is audience analysis.
The goal is to make writers more aware of how to shape an argument based on who one expects to read the article, and how to persuade them.

Unit Objectives:
Upon successful completion of this unit, you will be able to

* Explain how you will gain an appreciation of your intended audience;
* Describe the thoughts and questions you will ask yourself as you prepare your paper and keep your audience in mind;
* Describe how you will shape your paper in response to your audience and their values.

Discussion Board Question: Please list your favorite urban legend, alien abduction tale, or ghost story. Did you think it was real? Do you think there may be some truth to the story?

Required Writing:
500 words -- Please choose a new topic & or expand the topic you selected for your invention assignment. As you write, think about the audience you're expecting to read it. Who is your intended audience? Read the notes below and think about them as you write.

Who is your audience? Who, specifically, are they?
As you prepare to write, you need to have a good idea of your audience. This will probably involve more than one stage of contemplation. Of course, you know who your primary audience is likely to be, particularly if it is an instructor or an editor. But who are the secondary audiences likely to be? Why?

Demographics of the audience
As you define your audience, you need to have an idea of their basic characteristics. Where do they live? What gender are they? How old are they? What is their income level? What is their education level? What are the demographics that specifically apply to your topic? That will influence the questions you ask yourself as you try to obtain an accurate idea of the dominant characteristics of your audience. For example, if your paper is on gun control, it is useful to know if your audience is likely to be comprised of gun owners, or members of the NRA.

How will they receive your message? What is the medium? Printed or written discourse? Internet? Graphics? Film? Television?
The medium of the message has a definite impact on audience impact. For example, if they read your article in a newspaper, they will respond to it in a different manner than if they read it on typed pages. If your message is on the Internet, you need to keep in mind such factors as design, color, accessibility, loading speed, etc. If your message includes graphics, how are they printed on the page? In color? Black and white? If the medium is film or television, what are the production values? What are other factors, such as music, set design, mise-en-scene, direction, camera angles, etc.? All these are non-narrative elements that have an impact on your audience because each element carries with it meaning. The mind makes meaning from each of the elements, and, like it or not, it will impact the spoken or written part of the discursive package.

What are the core values of your audience? How can you affirm those while making your point?
What are the core values of your audience? Of course, you will probably never know all of them, but if you understand a bit about the religious, ethnic, group, and/or demographic background of your audience, you may have a fairly good idea about how the audience members respond to certain issues. What do they believe is the appropriate role of government and the state? Is the human being inherently good, bad, or neutral? Is the human psyche malleable or rigidly programmed? The key is to identify the core values that pertain to your primary thesis and the topics in your paper. If you affirm your audience's core beliefs, you can help convince your audience of your credibility and they will be more likely to pay attention.

When do the attitudes and values of your audience shift? This is a key opportunity, but why? What are your audience's situational attitudes?
This is an often overlooked and underestimated element in audience analysis. And yet, it is precisely this area that holds the most promise because these are the points where you may actually be able to wield influence. When the attitudes and values of your audience begin to shift due to a changing situation, or a different speaker, then you know you have an opportunity to create a more effective argument, and one which actually has a chance of working. This is not to be overlooked.

Why will your audience read your document? What's in it for them?
In constructing your paper, you need to keep in mind that your audience is not likely to read past the first line unless they perceive that there is some benefit or utility in continuing to read. With that in mind, you need to structure your paper so that you "positively program or condition" your audience by making the paper readable, relevant, reliable, and rewarding.

What are audience expectations? Narrative expectations? Generic expectations?
Because of the nature of narrative and form, your audience will begin to develop the expectation that your paper will follow along these lines. You must analyze your paper very carefully and decide what basic narrative form it is following. If it is a story, is it a Cinderella story? Romeo and Juliet? A revenge story? If it is a report, is it a sales pitch? An expose? A recommendation? A informational review? Does it take a position and argue a point? Generic expectations have to do with the genre or type of paper that it is. If it is a paper that takes a position, you would hardly expect it to read like an instruction manual. Thus, you need to keep in mind how your audience will typecast your paper and just accordingly.

What are your audience's preconceptions about your topic? The "major players" in your topic?
Is your audience likely to have preconceptions about your audience? If they do, you need to address them. If you do not acknowledge the preconceptions, your audience will think that you are not very well informed. In addition, it is important to determine who the "major players" are and that they manifest themselves as subtopics, statistics, case studies, images, or individual characters.

Who do you consider yourself to be? Who are you, and, more importantly, where are you in relation to your audience? What are the power hierarchies? Who and where is the "Other" in relation to you and your audience, and how does it change the way they approach you, each other, the text?

As you read your paper, think about how you would respond to your audience if you were meeting them face-to-face, then explaining the topic to them. How do you envision them assessing you? Your response to this is a key indicator of how you perceive yourself, and whether or not you believe yourself to be speaking to a group of peers, or to a group of individuals or an individual with more or significantly less power than you. It's absolutely indicative of the post-colonial (and post-feminist, if one discusses the phenomenology of oppression) mindset, and it indicates how you know your own reality, and how you prioritize your perceptions. If you can manage to think in an "Other"-centric way, you will have achieved what Kenneth Burke referred to as "consubstantiality," or the ability to "get under the skin" of your audience.

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