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Audience Awareness

The term audience awareness refers to the level of awareness and attention that a writer gives to their audience. An audience is a group of individuals who read the piece of literature. Awareness refers to the level of knowledge and consciousness that a writer has of the audience of their work. While proving to be a very controversial topic, many different scholars have debated over the importance of audience in writing and the level of awareness that writers should exhibit when writing. Throughout these debates, many different philosophies and teaching techniques on the topic of audience awareness have arisen.

1.      Teaching Audience Awareness

1.1  Peter Elbow: A renowned professor on the topic of composition, Peter Elbow has been an advocate against audience awareness. In his most memorable work on the subject matter, “Closing My Eyes as I Speak: An Argument for Ignoring Audience,” author Elbow advocates for the downgrading of the audience’s role when writing. He believes that while it is important to be aware of an audience, an over awareness can cripple a writer’s work.

1.2  David Bartholomae: Known for his public debate over the significance of audience with fellow professor Peter Elbow, David Bartholomae has been a figure in support of audience awareness. In his most memorable work on the subject matter, “Inventing the University,” author Bartholomae discusses the struggles that are faced by first year college writing students when writing to an audience that has much greater academic knowledge than they do.

1.3  R.J. Wiley: Well known for his writing on the topic of audience awareness, author R.J. Wiley has done a lot of work and research on the subject matter. In his most memorable work on the topic of audience awareness, “Audience Awareness and Critical Essays on Literature: Helping Students Become Part of the Interpretive Community,” author R.J. Wiley argues in favor of the significance of audience awareness when it comes to first year writing students.

2.      Techniques to Improve Audience Awareness

2.1  Free Writing: Discussed by author Peter Elbow in his piece “Closing My Eyes as I Speak: An Argument for Ignoring Audience,” this technique is designed to help students free themselves from the restrictions they may face when writing to certain audiences. According to Elbow, this process involves just writing freely nonstop, without worrying about grammar or any other issues, for a short period of time. Author Elbow believes that this process is important to writing students because it helps them improve on bringing a more comfortable and conversational tone to their writing process.  

2.2  Reader Response: Mainly advocated by author R.J. Wiley in his piece “Audience Awareness and Critical Essays on Literature: Helping Students Become Part of the Interpretive Community,” reader response is a commonly used tool in the teaching of composition. Author Wiley states that it has a lot of importance to teaching audience awareness because students must first put themselves in the shoes of the audience which they are writing in order to become better writers. This will improve the overall quality and comfort of writing students because they learn who they are writing to and what is expected of them before taking on the writing process themselves. 

2.3  Inventing the University: Coined by author David Bartholomae in his memorable piece “Inventing the University,” this process refers to first year writing students. It states that in order to become better writers, students must “invent the university.” They must learn to accept they are writing to an audience that knows much more about the subject matter than they do. They must adapt to the language and processes used by the academic community, or university, around them. They must find their own voice and speak as an “insider” to the academic world when writing to it.  

3.      Audience Invoked versus Audience Addressed

3.1  The Debate: This topic was thoroughly covered in the piece “Audience Addressed/Audience Invoked: The Role of Audience in Composition Theory and Pedagogy,” by authors Lisa Ede and Andrea Lunsford. In their writing, the two go into detail on the topic of the relationship between the writer, the reader, and the message of the piece. They compare the two opposing theories of how the topic of audience should be handled in writing: the audience invoked theory versus the audience addressed theory.

3.2  The Audience Invoked Theory: This strategy of envisioning audience states that audience is imaginary to the writer. It advocates for the downgrading of the role of audience awareness in writing. It states that a writer cannot accurately know the audience who will be reading their writing and that it is impossible to really know the audience that you are writing to.

3.3  The Audience Addressed Theory: This strategy of envisioning audience states that the role of audience shapes the overall flow of the writer’s piece. It advocates for a more upgraded role of audience awareness in writing. The theory is based on the idea that writers must base all of their writing of off the particular audience that they are writing to. 

3.4  The Middle Ground: In their piece covering the two theories of audience awareness, authors Lisa Ede and Andrea Lunsford look closely at the two theories and their creators. After doing this, they go on to propose a relative middle ground between the two opposing viewpoints. They point out that the theories underplay to the rhetoric and that in order to be a successful writer, one must find a certain balance between the addressed audience and the invoked audience. The two state that no matter what, the writing process cannot be complete without an audience. It completes the circle. They also state that all of the rules that are covered in the audience addressed theory can also apply when considering the audience invoked. In order to find a strong balance between the two subjects, writers must write within the contexts of the addressed audience but at the same time reserving their own creative control of their piece by invoking their audience.

References:

Bartholomae, David. "Inventing the University." Journal of Basic Writing (1985)

Ede, Lisa, and Andrea Lunsford. "Audience Addressed/Audience Invoked: The Role of Audience in Composition Theory and Pedagogy." College Composition and Communication (1985)

Elbow, Peter. "Closing My Eyes as I Speak." College English (1987)

Wiley, R.J. "Audience Awareness and Critical Essays on Literature: Helping Students Become Part of the Interpretive Community." ERIC Document Reproduction (1988)