All Together Now...Remember Your Audience

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"Long, complicated sentences present no obstacle to professional readers.  But we don't writer for professional readers" (Cappon 37).

How many times have we been reminded to write for a specific audience?  My rough guess--A lot.  One thing I've learned about oft repeated phrases over the years (like, chew your food completely, don't run down the stairs, stay away from dark alleys) is that they usually carry some beneficial knowledge in them.  The thing about writing for the general public, though, is, to be frank, it's difficult. 

Personally, sometimes when someone points out a leap of logic in my writing, my first reaction is to be puzzled.  "But, I know exactly what I mean," I'll think.  The fact that I am initially confused by the concern exemplifies my need for fresh eyes.  In the type of writing I'm used to doing (more literature-based, less journalism), this doesn't pose a problem.  I can easily find a willing reader to offer advice.  In a journalistic setting, where things are more time-sensitive, this may not always be the case.  That's why it's important to get in the habit of writing sophisticated articles that Joe down the block can understand.  To do this, I think we need to make our first goal (aside from accuracy) reader comprehension.  If we sacrifice prose for practicality, so be it.  Of course, it's possible for skill and understanding to coexist, we just have to diligently work on both.  To recycle another repeated phrase, practice makes perfect.

6 Comments

Derek Tickle said:

A wonderful topic to bring up! We always have to be careful that we write to a specific type of auidence. If we are writing a newspaper article, then we don't want to write long paragraphs with citations in them. I think that reader comprehension is the key when writing because if the wording is so academic that only professional can understand, then the normal person will not read it.

Angela Palumbo said:

I just think that the contrast between the literature world and journalism world is hilarious. My whole career here I've been writing long, complex sentences because I've been writing for the professors to show them I got the message. Now all of the sudden I'm supposed to dumb down my writing. Such a contrast...but I like it. In the real world, if you use sentences that drag on and on many people will have a hard time following you. Journalism is more how you would talk to "Joe down the block" or "Jenny from the block." Journalism, in many cases, is more applicable to everyday life. It is not only a skill of writing but can also be a verbal skill.

In the classroom (when I teach), I'm not going to be able to talk about all of the different poetic terms nonchalantly like I could in literature class. As the teacher, the students already know I'll have the education. It is going to be my job to simplify what I know so they can know it, too.

Josie, once again, thank you for your thoughtful blog.

Aja Hannah said:

I feel like if a non-journalism/english major were to have read Cappon (a common man) he would be a little offended because we said they weren't as smart. Then again, they'll probably never read this.

But yea, again with the reinforcement: Keep Audience in Mind.

Josie Rush said:

Thanks, Derek. I agree. We have to find that line so that the average person can understand what we're saying, and the above average person won't be bored with our articles. Better to err on the side of simplicity, in my opinion.

Josie Rush said:

Angela, you're right, it sometimes feels like we're asked to "dumb down" our writing. It was such a frustrating feeling when I first started to dabble in journalism. My thoughts were always, "but...I can make it so much better than that." or "that's boring." Now I see that it's primarily just different. And writing for a specific audience is a skill all writers must have. If one can't adapt, he/she's not much of a writer.

Angela Palumbo said:

Adaptability is very important. I'm glad we've been given the opportunity to learn all of this different information, even if it's hard to keep it all straight sometimes.

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