Consider Your Audience: Real Readers in a Virtual Age

Recently a professor told me to consider my audience. She said that my style was far too informal for a grad paper. I needed to consider what writing was appropriate for academic discourse. Academic discourse? Who did she think I was writing to? She was my only reader. I felt, then, that I could play around a little bit with the essay form, experiment a little. I even included a couple of allusions that only she would understand. It did not work. She wanted me, I realized, to speak into an imaginary space where scholars speak, not to each other, but into an imaginary library of information.

In comparison, in another class, we formed workshops for the papers, then posted our final papers in forums for everyone to read, and finally presented our papers to the class in a mock-conference. At last, I was writing to a real audience and it made all the difference. In that paper I also experimented with form, included jokes, and even wove in a couple of mysteries for the readers (since it was a class on mystery). My paper was academically rigorous, but it was also enjoyable. Some even said it was fun to read because I considered my audience, as I had been told all my school life to do.

In the article “Clive Thompson on the New Literacy,” the author claims that the internet is not killing our ability to write, it is reviving it. People are writing more than ever before through email, text messages, Twitter, Facebook, and so on. More importantly, writers these days are more aware than ever of their audience. Before, people wrote for teachers and almost no one else. Now, Thompson says writers are composing for a much wider range of purposes and readers and they are adapting tone and technique to the audience. In “CCCC Position Statement on Teaching, Learning, and Assessing Writing in Digital Environments”, the writer stresses that all writing is social. This was also true in the past; the difference now is that instead of writing for one person, the teacher, we are writing for our fellow students and possibly, as in this blog, others outside of the class and even outside of the university.

There has been a fundamental shift in the writing and learning process. Instead of doing research and composing only to prove something to a teacher, who presumably knows much more than the student and may have considered the issues in question, a student is sharing information, sharing their observations and insights with others in the class and, in turn, learning from them. It is the interaction, which is important. The digital age can create a revolution in academic writing. We do not have to write to an imaginary space called “academic discourse,” we can write for each other.

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3 comments on “Consider Your Audience: Real Readers in a Virtual Age

  1. I like what you have to say about writing for each other. One important point that you bring up is the importance of interaction. I think that now, more than ever, instructors are seeing that they can learn as much, if not more, from their students, as their students can learn from them. The students are the ones who are right there in the thick of the digital world, they were raised in it whereas others of us have had to consciously enter it. The students can teach us about our technology and the culture it is creating.

  2. Yes, I think there are places for academic discourse to continue as it has, but I think that the line between academic forms of writing and more informal forms are blurring and have been, in some cases, since the rise of postmodernism. The internet is making this even more true. Now we also include “high” and “low” cultural references in our writings and more references to ourselves.

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