Knowing your audience

Knowing your audience ‘simply means [knowing] the person or people who will read your writing’ (p.5)

Johnson, R. (1995) Improve your writing skills. Manchester, Clifton Press.

We all use different writing styles instinctively depending on who we are writing to. For example, you use ‘text speak’ when texting your friends but would use more formal language if applying for a job. You adjust your writing style to accommodate the needs of your audience.

There are rules that you can learn in order to meet the needs of your university audience. These are the same rules that your audience (usually your lecturer) use when they write their own research papers. The rules are not complicated.

Who is my audience when I am at university?

At university, you know that the person who will assess your work will be an academic who conducts their own research, and will have several published research papers, in journals, conferences, reports, and in many cases, books or book chapters.

This person who reads your work at university is someone who regards academic writing and research (using all relevant search tools and sources of information) as an essential skill that every university student must develop.

In addition, your peers will also be given the opportunity to review your work.
External examiners may read your work, particularly when you write a dissertation, and if you apply for further research programmes, people you could be working with in the future will read your work. Your employers may want to see examples of reports you’ve written, or demonstrations of your research process.

What are the characteristics of the academic audience?

  • Experts in their field, able to comprehend in depth
  • Published and experienced authors who know the rules
  • Publishing in competition with other researchers
  • As academic writers, they show their knowledge of the literature by referencing the work of others
  • Use evidence (usually drawn from the literature) and form objective arguments, with both sides considered
  • Methodology matters to them: you can be awarded marks for using the right research process even if they don’t agree with your conclusion

What will the person reading your essay/report expect?

There are basic rules that all academics tend to apply when they are assessing the quality of written work. Things they look for are likely to include:

  • structure
  • style
  • arguments
  • awareness of the literature on the topic
  • references and citations
  • captioning

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