Writing for your Audience (Rhetoric)

Hi all! Today’s post will cover writing for your audience. To most–if not all–of you, this will seemingly be no big deal. “I’m a student. My professor has to read my paper. Who cares about writing specifically for him/her?” I bet your professor does, even if he or she doesn’t explicitly say so. You know when professors tell you not to summarize a book? Well, a small part of reason involves the fact that your professor knows the text and he/she is your audience. Hence, by not summarizing the text, you are writing to your audience. Today’s post will cover three basic aspects of rhetoric and how they help you persuade and manipulate (mwah ha ha!) your audience.

1) Determine Your Audience

Before you can fully understand what techniques will work best with your audience, you need to understand who your audience is. Sometimes professors will give you a tailored audience. For example, a common one is “Someone who knows a little about the topic, but not necessarily all the nuanced details about it.” So if you were writing about The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, your audience may have seen the movies but not read the books. Thus, the way you write to that person would be different than the way you would write to someone who wears chain-mail and runs around calling himself Aragon. This is incredibly important when you get out of college too–if you’re in business, you’re not going to write the same letter to a CEO as to an IT specialist.

2) Understand Your Audience’s Needs/Expectations

When I read articles as part of my research for whatever paper I’m working on at the time, the author has determined who his/her audience is (me!). As such, he or she can also determine what I would expect and what I would need. As a scholar, I don’t need fluff, I don’t need summary–I need a new theoretical approach to a text. I also need to know exactly what the text is talking about by either the title or an abstract. The author gets that. I’m not sitting on the beach, reading People magazine and drinking margaritas. The needs for me as a scholar are different than me consuming information about celebrities. Once you know who your audience is, you need to question what your audience will be expecting from you: the author. And this, my friends, leads us to rhetoric.

3) Manipulating Your Audience: Rhetoric

Rhetoric has three “appeals”: ethos (an appeal to the credibility/authority of the author), pathos (an emotional appeal to the audience), and logos (a logical appeal of argumentation). These appeals help persuade audiences, but the most skillful writers know how and when to use these appeals to their greatest effects.

Ethos: For academic writing, ethos is quite possibly the most important appeal. To establish authority, you need to clearly illustrate you understand the topic–perhaps by providing background information, quoting, etc.–and you need to write with confidence and skill by using tone. Slang and–as I tell my students–“cute fluff” undermines your credibility. You WANT me to think you’re credible and serious about the writing. Otherwise, I won’t take you seriously. And no one wants that, right? Right. 😀

Pathos: This appeal may not be used as directly in academic writing, but is important nonetheless. Pathos is an emotional appeal, but that doesn’t mean you need to tell your audience that someone is dying, the world is coming to an end, etc. Instead, let’s assume your professor is a Shakespearean scholar, but you’re taking him/her for a writing course. Quoting Shakespeare as part of your hook would then be an appeal of pathos. You know that it will make an emotional connection, and you make the professor feel all warm and fuzzy inside. That is, at least, if you do it well. If you don’t do it well, then tread lightly, my friends!

Logos: Logic is incredibly important for any paper. Organization is a part of logic. For example, in a subtraction math problem, organization is very important. 11-1 is not the same as 1-11. Just like in math, you need to make sure your organization follows the “correct” order for your goals. Starting with one point, moving on to the next, and circling back to the first is not conducive to “good logic.” Additionally, you need to “show your work” as you would in math. You can’t just say, “A is B.” You need to show it step-by-step by breaking it down and analyzing it. Quotes and outside resources help with this immensely.

Once you balance these three things skillfully, you will become a much stronger writer. Notice how I write this post for example: (1) I am fully aware of my audience (mostly students) and cater to that audience in the beginning of the post (which is also an appeal to pathos–my students’ emotions); (2) I write as if I am confident about what I am discussing–even if I have no clue what I’m talking about,  you would never know that by my writing style; (3) my writing follows a logical order and breakdown with headers and is written in a way that logically breaks down my argument (how to write for/persuade your audience). All of these steps are necessary for becoming a more advanced writer.

Good luck! 😀

Posted in Academic Advice, Writing Wisdom.