Friday, November 14, 2008

Topic: Audience for Writing

10-second review: Author identifies two types of “communities” or audiences for writing or discourse.

Title: “On the Very Idea of a Discourse Community.” T Kent. College Composition and Communication (December 1991), 425. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: One type of audience or discourse community can be clearly identified. The second type of audience, or discourse community, is indeterminate, a part of several communities at once, and “…is already committed to a number of beliefs or practices” (Joseph Harris). As I understand the concept, one audience shares similar backgrounds, i.e., biologists, English education people, etc. The other audience consists of generalists, having some background in several fields of interest.

Comment: I have always been uncomfortable in asking students to identify a specific audience because people with different interests and backgrounds will be reading their writing. Students, like published authors, do not really know who is their audience. On the other hand, if they are writing for teen-agers, they can more readily address the interests of teen-agers.

I still think that “audience” is a slippery concept. Generally, I think most people write for a general audience. However, at specific times, in specific situations, the writer can write for a specific audience. From this article on discourse communities, I conclude that students should practice writing for both types of audience, the generalized reader of many interests and ages, and the very specific audience, like the school board meeting or your boss. Most writers in professional publications seem to think that student writers should always define a specific audience. I think we should differentiate between the specialized audience and the generalized audience.

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