Writing for General Audiences
Average Reading Time: 20 Minutes
Understand the difference between writing for a general audience versus an academic audience
Recognize the benefits of analyzing your audience
- Define and evaluate your purpose, context, and message
Learn strategies for designing and presenting a message so that it is successfully understood by a general audience
What the Heck Are General Audiences?
Audience in the Real World
Nike Audience Analysis
For this assignment, let's look at Nike. Go to nike.com and see if you can answer the following Audience Analysis Questions. Note that you might not be able to answer all of them. Thinking through all of this information, write a short paragraph 3-4 sentence analysis of Nike's audience.
- What is the approximate size of Nike's audience? Are they addressing a small population or a sizable group?
- Who, specifically, are they targeting? (Think demographics)
- What is the demographic makeup of Nike's audience (age, gender, education level, ethnicity), and how might they use that information to develop and shape their content?
- What personal and professional traits does Nike have in common with the members of their audience?
- Are there any cultural considerations that may influence how their audience responds to their content?
- Does their audience expect to be entertained as well as informed?
- Does Nike target certain members of their audience, and if so, which members?
- How does Nike earn their audience's trust? How do they demonstrate their knowledge or expertise?
- What preconceptions or biases might be held by some members of their aucience?
- What expectations will their audience have regarding Nike's social media content?
- What expectations does their audience have regarding the format of their social media content?
- What key questions does Nike's audience expect them to answer?
- What key objections are audience members likely to raise?
- To connect to the needs and interests of their audience, what particular appeals does Nike include in their social media content?
Under the Hood
In that vein, we determined that in this textbook, you'd want us to keep the paragraphs short, include personal stories, add images and videos, incorporate lots of white space and headings, and perhaps most importantly of all, make the textbook open source and free of cost. We did all this for you! Because we care. So far, we've had very positive feedback about our choice of conversational voice and interactive elements (not to mention the fact that it's free). But if you think of ways we can improve, please feel free to tell us in the end-of-chapter surveys. The beauty of an online textbook is that we're continually revising it, so bring on the feedback!
Purpose, Context, and Message
Informative—like reporting on the latest research coming out of computational linguistics
Persuasive—like convincing your city to install a stoplight at a dangerous intersection
A mix of the two—like explaining how germs are spread during flu season in order to persuade your audience to get a flu shot.
You also want to use strong visuals—especially if you want to portray data. Informational writing relies on facts, data, and statistics, but these need to be portrayed in easy, understandable ways, and visuals really help with that. Choose clear diagrams, tables, figures, and/or images to illustrate your point. Document design can also help—things such as bullets, headings and subheadings, bolded key terms or definitions, call-out boxes, color, and even white space.
A Word on Narrative
The Power of Storytelling https://youtu.be/1rMnzNZkIX0
Context and Genre
Strategies for General Writing
Academic vs General Audiences: Reporting on Research
Make the Connection
List 2-3 strategies that the author of the newspaper article used to translate the academic research article to a more general/public audience? Which strategies do you think are the most helpful and that you can use when you write for a general audience?
I hope you noticed things like the use of good visuals to draw the reader in, the conversational tone, the easy explanations of the research, the lack of jargon, and the use of direct quotes from the article's author himself. This made it feel like the wrtier was telling the story of how the research came to be rather than just reporting on data. These are all strategies that can come in handy when you're translating something academic into something for the public.
Here's a table that sums up the contrasting strategies generally used in Academic versus General Writing.
|Academic Audience Writing||General Audience Writing|
|Long paragraphs||Short paragraphs|
|Serious academic tone||Engaging, friendly tone|
|Synthesized claims/heavy referencing||Logical progression/light referencing|
|Clarity to avoid misunderstanding||Clever wording to encourage insight|
|Focus on knowledge and scientific advancement||Focus on practical application|
|Objective writing with solid backing||Passionate writing with conviction|
|Focus on data, methods, and results||Focus on narrative and relevance to audience|
|Most appeals are to logic and authority/character||Most appeals are to emotions and authority/character|
|APA in-text citations and reference lists||Hyperlinks or endnotes for references|
Top Seven Hints for Writing for General Audiences
Anchor each new point, taking the reader on a journey. Use the first part of the sentence and subject skillfully to keep your audience engaged (sometimes flip the order of the sentence to achieve this level of engagement); be aware of the same principle as you transition from paragraph to paragraph. Use one-sentence zingers and varied sentence and paragraph length to maintain high interest from point to point.
Ax anything unessential. Look at writing through the metaphor of finding a pot of gold in the woods. It can be found within 400 feet, but in the searching for it, you walk a mile. Which does your audience want—the 400 feet or the mile? When you have to cut things out, you are often cutting out the mile. These parts are hard to cut because they were personal to you and to the journey of finding the pot of gold, but the audience is not part of that journey. They generally want your message in the 400 feet.
Attribute sources with very short, but impressive elements. When citing a source and choosing what to include (e.g., author’s name, credentials, affiliation with an institution, professional background, name of recent article or book, etc.), try to include no more than two attributions and use those that are most impressive for the audience of your piece. Add quotes in places that are consistent with the original text to not misuse another author’s intent.
Angle your insights to help readers gain a new perspective. Know the point you are driving towards, even if the reader does not see it from the beginning. Consider starting with some of the most interesting parts of the idea or a story or place them closer to the first of the article (once interested, the reader can better deal later with the less interesting parts of the topic if they are already “hooked” on the article). Refine the ending to make sure readers finish with an unstated invitation to continue to think about your point. Don’t “overstay your welcome” by doing too much of a summary.
Allow authentic use of narrative to be real and to touch readers. Paint a picture by using great adjectives; don’t be afraid to add emotional words to human experience to bring it to life. At times, this means that you slow down the pacing in order to give rich detail. If you begin or end with examples or stories, make sure that the tone stays consistent throughout, so the story is woven into the piece, rather than used as a stand-alone piece. Carefully consider the use of “you” and “your” since this speaks directly to the reader. When you choose to speak “second person” be sure you are speaking generally enough to include all of your audience, that you don’t inadvertently offend them by putting on a label or suggesting a belief or behavior they have that might not be very complimentary (to avoid making sweeping or inaccurate judgements). With a call to action, also be aware of how this might be taken by your audience.
Analyze or interpret data or statistics to guide readers. When describing research, simplify (it may help to think of a friend or neighbor); state findings in present tense and explain the conducting of a study in the past tense. Be careful about “dumbing down the research” so much that it confuses terms or overgeneralizes findings (e.g., consider whether the original researchers would be happy with your clarity and accuracy in describing their work). For your most important points that hinge on research or when introducing charts or graphs, take time to guide readers through complicated findings with helpful analysis, rather than assuming they will get the point if you only just mention the presence of findings in this area.
Apply good APA protocols & hyperlinks to build transparency and trust. Use a good variety of resources that would be considered credible by your audience. Where you can, hyperlink to the original, using a key word or two to hyperlink the resource. In those cases and in other cases where the source is not internet based (e.g., a book), provide an endnote. (See this video, for example, with a brief information about how to insert endnotes in Word.) Key points need good references to build credibility, but in public scholarship pieces, synthesis is not generally needed, nor is it necessary to be obtrusive about a heavy focus on naming or explaining sources in general—just be transparent and wise in the selection of sources (e.g., if all your sources are blogs that no one has heard of, the piece may not feel very authoritative).
Representing a Company or Group
Read an Example
Finally, one of the best ways to learn how to write for a general audience is to read pieces written for general audiences. Shocking, I know. As a last exercise, choose of these examples of articles by undergraduate students in BYU's School of Family Life written and published for a general audience. Notice the strategies they use to make their article more appealing for a general audience, even when they're reporting on academic research that's been done on their topic.
Option #1: Love: The Greatest Motivation to Change
General Audience Examples
Which article did you read? What strategies did the author(s) employ to appeal to a general audience? How can you incorporate these strategies into your own writing?
With practice, you'll learn how to easily transition between writing for an academic audience versus a general audience.The last three chapters of this textbook will take you through the most important genres for general audiences: professional portfolios, public texts, and presentations.
Graduate School Application Letter
CV (Curriculum Vitae)
Memos and Email
Infographics and Data Visualization
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