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Developing your essay

Learn more about how to develop your essay: from brainstorming to organizing your writing

Balancing content and audience expectations

In addition to thinking about who their audiences are, authors also need to balance the content they want to provide with the expectations of the audience:

For example, when a speaker is deciding what to talk about during a presentation, they have to consider more than just the content they want to share with the audience. The speaker is going to enter that room with a desire to share information, but the audience will also attend with an expectation of what information they’ll receive. The presenter’s job is to anticipate the audience’s expectations so that the content both satisfies the presenter’s desire to share as well as the audience’s points of interest. If the presenter weighs the communication too heavily with content but doesn't address the audience's expectations, the presentation will be off balance.

The importance of accommodating both the author’s and the audience’s needs is also present in writing. For student authors, this balance can be tricky because they can be tempted to use writing to demonstrate a breadth of reading. That is, to treat an essay as an opportunity to insert as many details as possible in every nook and cranny of the writing to show that they've read extensively. There may be instances where such an approach is appropriate, such as when writing a literature review; however, in a typical essay, students run the risk of ignoring their instructor’s expectations for the work. Typically, instructors assume that students have done the assigned reading(s), and the essay isn’t merely a demonstration of how broadly the student has read. Rather, an essay is an opportunity for a student to put the information to use in a way that demonstrates the student’s understanding of the topic. In other words, an essay isn’t just an information dump; instead, instructors are looking for students to use the information to show they understand the materials, they can choose the most appropriate information to support the analysis of their topic, and they can structure the information appropriately to create a convincing argument.

There are lots of other applications for this approach to managing content and expectations e.g., meetings or job interviews. The key thing to remember is that communication isn’t only about pushing out information; effective communication also involves anticipating and meeting the expectations of the intended audience.