Understanding an audience’s needs and expectations is essential to creating effective communication. Crafting a message involves more than producing words; the message must also be presented appropriately. For example, writing a project proposal in limerick form might provide excellent information, but it’s unlikely the proposal would meet the expectations of the decision makers.
When deciding how to approach writing for a specific audience, authors need to consider many aspects of developing the message. For example, how much information does the audience already possess on the topic? An author may not need to provide detailed explanations to an expert, but explanations are necessary when the intention is to explain the author’s thinking or when the audience’s familiarity with the subject matter isn’t guaranteed. The formality of the structure, tone, and style also needs to align with the audience’s expectations. Finally, authors must determine whether a strictly objective perspective is necessary or if they can include some personal observations and emotion in the description.
How Does the Message Change for Different Audiences?
Consider how you would describe a personal experience to the following audiences and how the content, structure, tone, style, and explanations would change for each audience:
You (e.g., diary entry)
Close friend who shared the experience (e.g., a personal email or text)
Work acquaintance who wasn’t present for the event (e.g., work email)
Supervising manager (e.g., event report)
Senior executive (e.g., briefing note)
The intended audience will also influence an author’s approach in academic writing. For example, a post in a team Moodle discussion forum could be informal and personal if the audience is other students. However, if an instructor asked students to model formal academic writing in posts to him or her, the writing would instead have a formal structure, tone, and style, as well as clear explanations that demonstrate the author’s understanding of the topic. An informal reflective piece, such as a journal entry, might be written with the instructor as the intended direct audience, therefore the work could be more personal and without explanations of course concepts with which the instructor is familiar. In contrast, a thesis would be written for a direct audience of the thesis committee and an implied audience of the general academic and/or professional community. Accordingly, the document would have a formal structure, tone, and style and should present all the information necessary to understand the author’s research and discussion.
If you’re a student and you’re unsure of what approach you should take in a work, please consult your instructor. For more information and suggestions on tailoring a message to an academic audience, please visit Audience by the Writing Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.