Who Am I Writing For?
Consider the title of this post. Now imagine you are (re)writing it. Depending on the inclinations of your readers, you might be encouraged to (re)title this post one of the following:
- “Who am I writing for?”
- “Whom am I writing for?”
- “For whom am I writing?”
And so on. Different readers might want different things from the writers they’re reading. When I write, it's sometimes hard to remember that no reader is perfectly objective or neutral. All feedback comes from a particular vantage and brings with it assumptions about what constitutes quality or effectiveness in composition. These assumptions are important to keep in mind when we compose.
To the best of my knowledge, there is no perfect way to navigate and respond to the large number of audiences a work can have. There are, however, some questions about audience I try to keep in mind when writing, two of which I will outline below. (Bear in mind, the questions I present are far from a comprehensive list of the things writers could, and perhaps should, ask about audience. Instead, they are merely a pair of questions I consider helpful when I start to write.)
WHO IS MY AUDIENCE?
Imagining your audience can be difficult. Depending on the writing task, you might be familiar with your intended audience, or your intended audience might be completely unfamiliar. Moreover, a single composition might have multiple, overlapping audiences. Consider papers you submit to WriteLab: Does WriteLab constitute the intended audience for your work, or is there an ultimate audience beyond WriteLab? What happens if the beliefs or desires of these audiences conflict? How should you respond?
WHAT AM I INTENDING TO ACHIEVE WITH MY WRITING?
As important as it is to critically consider the expectations of external readers, it is – I find – equally important for me to ask myself about what I, as a reader of my own work, am hoping to see when in I compose. In a real way, I am also an important audience for my work. For this reason, I must ask myself how my beliefs and desires are aligned with those of my external audience(s). What types of changes to my writing would help me better reach my external audience? What types of changes would jeopardize my own intentions for what I’ve written?
I’ve never found these questions easy to answer, and I suspect that many experienced writers regularly encounter this same difficulty. Even in the absence of answers, though, I believe these questions are central to my writing process. Without them, I would likely be at a loss for how to proceed when writing. The next time you write, ask yourself: Who is your audience? What do you intend to achieve?