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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.

Creative Problem-Solving: Hazardous Shipping Lanes in the Malaccan Straits

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Here is a project for a Creative Problem-Solving Class. Imagine being issued a handheld computer, an mp3 player, a CD-ROM, and then being told that you will have to develop a plan to deal with the problem of piracy and attacks on ships in the Straits of Malacca. You will work with a team of 10 classmates who will be constantly traveling, and who will have only intermittent access to the Internet. You will be expected to develop components of a plan that you can implement together when you meet again, either face to face, or through synchronous Internet communication.

Mission (Outcome) Centered E-Learning Experience

You must, with your teammates, devise a plan to deal with piracy in the Straits of Malacca. You have certain equipment and funds available at your disposal. You have a certain amount of political clout, and you have some indirect methods that you can use.

While it is still possible to work as a team even while separated, the mission must be further refined, and broken into steps that can be implemented.

After refining the mission, and breaking it down into action steps, the areas of action should be mapped out. This must be done after understanding the nature of the problem.

Partial expanded definition of the problem:

*Cargo ships are attacked when they reach the “pinch point” through the Straits of Malacca.

*Ships are commandeered and their cargo sold on the black market.

*Crew are often killed, but sometimes kidnapped.

*The crews that do the pirating are not the same people as the individuals who fund the activities.

*Economic pressures, political double-dealing, poverty, and corruption make piracy appealing.

*Sovereignty issues come into play when policing and monitoring activities are proposed. Who would monitor traffic and police it? How is integrity assured?

*Logistics are challenging. GPS monitoring, identification of ships, cargo, monitoring of cargo, safety issues, are complicating factors.

*Trafficking and poor reporting of cargo also complicate the issue. Possible problem areas: human smuggling, illegal substances, contraband, falsified merchandise (pharmaceuticals, licensed brand “knock offs,” counterfeit equipment and spare parts, etc.).

Team roles and responsibilities:

Students must distribute roles and assume responsibility for developing their piece of the plan in anticipation of when they get together.

The roles can be those of advisors.

*Physical Security advisor.

*Geopolitical Affairs advisor

*Natural Resources advisor

*Trade and Trafficking advisor

*Maritime navigation advisor

Each must come up with a plan, which can follow a very prescribed approach. The responses can be shaped around a template or guiding questions.

Because not everyone will have the same sort of access to information, each person should collect information for distribution in the following forms:

*Text files (Word)

*mp3 Audio files for uploading and downloading to portable players

*Graphics -- maps, interactive mileage calculators, navigation maps, charts with statistics, navigation charts and calculators, examples of contraband and counterfeits, movies

Distributed Learning Space (Network-Centric)

By realizing that one is separated by time zones, access, and space from one’s teammates, the team must come up with ways to communicate. Step 1 involves finding out the best way for everyone to communicate. It may be that everyone is on the same sort of network and can communicate via handheld (BlackBerry, Treo, T-Mobile Sidekick), either through text messages, voice, or instant message. It may be that some of the team members will be out of range, or, due to security reasons, will not have an interactive system.

In that case, there must be a way for them to role-play without frequent communication, and to make the times when sending information is possible really count. Whatever the communication constraints, a solution to being in touch and accomplishing the goal must be devised.

Step 2 involves developing a procedure for distributing the information needed by team members at the appropriate time. Some information will need to be made available “on demand.” The Advisor’s reports need to be shared in a way that works for everyone.

Distributed Leadership (Network-Centric)

Instruction to students: Please read the articles and devise your own plan to deal with piracy in the Straits of Malacca. Keep in mind that the Straits of Malacca pose regional security, socio-economic, political, and strategic problems.

Pedagogical / Implementation realities: The students will be working individually, but yet, as they do so, they will be envisioning how their piece of the puzzle fits with the others.

They will be taking full responsibility for their role as an Advisor, and they realize that they must do a good job when they meet with the other Advisors so that they can work together to achieve the goal of creating a plan.

Some Advisors will find that the information provided to all is sufficient. Others will not. Thus, they need to be able to get information on an as-needed basis.

Because not everyone will have the luxury of a lot of storage space, or access to the Internet, it is useful to have all the readings and information available on the web, in easy-to-download files.

An audio version should also be available, ideally as an mp3 in an audio file. Later, the Advisor can listen through a handheld computer or through an iPod portable player. Graphics and other learning objects should be optimized for display in many different players, and delivery modes.

The Initial Readings for the Advisors.

Maritime terrorists lurk in S-E Asia: --

The Straits of Malacca and the waters off Indonesia are becoming hotspots for pirates


Navy looking for sailors abducted in the Straits of Malacca --

Malacca Straits remains one of most dangerous shipping lanes in world --

Straits of Malacca: Security Implications (map) --

Advisors Strategy Meeting.

The final step in the course is to plan an Advisors’ Strategy Meeting. This is when the final plan is developed. This is, in essence, a final project. However, with the “extreme situatedness” of the assignment, it is possible that some of the plan could be further studied by interested parties and actually implemented.

This text was first published at, without the podcast

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